30 July

Just Because You’re Anxious, Doesn’t Mean You Are Weak: Humility Is The Greatest Freedom. Losing “The Piece Of Heart.”

by Jon Katz

Maria and I experienced a bump in our marriage last week when she discovered I had gone to my IRA funds to keep things together when inflation struck, and prices soared.

Donations to the blog and the Army of Good fell after the Ukraine War and the skyrocketing cost of things.

People are still contributing, but they don’t have as much money.

We are neither immune from life outside the farm nor wish to be; we don’t seek a perfect life but a real life. I fully accept that.

But the change was swift and brutal, and I was unprepared. I panicked, as I often do when I’m dealing with money.

I didn’t tell Maria about it because I’ve always been ashamed and afraid to talk about my money and because I thought she was facing some serious emotional problems of her own, and I didn’t want to add to them.

I didn’t think about her strength, only her fear. I know what fear does.

In my mind, I didn’t lie to her; I didn’t share the truth. That’s a rationale.  It’s the same thing.

She was upset about it.

Trust is a huge issue in Maria’s life, especially to men.

She has always told me she trusts me more than any other person in her life, and I was the only man she ever trusted, and I cherish that and am proud of it.

She began to trust me when I spent a year training her wild dog Frieda so she could come inside the house and live with us. She figured if Frieda, a veteran man-hater, could love me and trust me, she might give it a shot.

But by withholding this truth, I endangered this trust, which is a staple of our marriage. Maria and I have been through a lot together. and we have always trusted one another.

We have no secrets from one another; we have never had any.

I know how strong Maria is and how competent. I have witnessed her growth,  purpose, and courage firsthand every day.

Yet I succumbed to one of the many diseases that afflict middle-class men when it comes to women. All around me, I grew up seeing men handle money and women defer to them and their decisions.

The men were always in charge.

Without thinking, I assumed Maria wasn’t as good at handling money as I was, even though she has dealt with money masterfully (and usually better than me) in her own art business.

I had worked all over the country in several big-shot jobs. I thought I knew all about it. But the secretaries I often had knew a lot more than me.

She was hurt and confused. We both talked it through.

As always, we listened to one another and heard each other.

It was a good and honest talk, and we came to a good and honest place.

I start every morning now by sharing the details of our finances with her, and we go over them together.

With her help – she has many good ideas I did not have – we are getting organized and putting things in order. I was worried about the Army of Good, but I knew I would never quit this work.

For the near future, I will just have to learn to say no more often and pick our goals and projects carefully. We’ll get through it; we always do.

As to my personal life, I’ve adjusted my spending, and we have revised our spending and are keeping a close eye on what we owe and how we can save i[ and the cost of things.

We even worked out a budget, which I’ve never done in my life. I liked it.

Curiously, I don’t know anyone who isn’t going through some version of this and doing the same thing, even my wealthy friends.

My AOG work is on track. Our Wish Lists are succeeding, and donations come when I need them. I’m careful about what I ask for.

I was frightened by how quickly the donations to the blog and the Army of Good dropped and how sharply the cost of everything was rising simultaneously.

I tried to deal with it by myself and did a sloppy (although not entirely foolish)  job.

I have come a long way, just not far enough. I appreciate some help.

I am much relieved at being open with Maria and seeing her as a partner, not a fragile crystal to be protected.

It is great to share this challenge with her and pool our ideas. It is actually fun.

I’ve hidden my fear of money and my confusion about it all my life. It was never discussed in my family, and I always found ways – not always honorable – to get what I needed.

I was a wild child, raised like a wolf, running free from the first and alone. No one taught me a thing or even knew what I was doing.

We had a Darwinian culture in my family, each one on his own to survive or fall. I survived. Other people in my family didn’t fare as well.

I’ve learned a lot from this most recent experience. I don’t want to hide anymore.

Maria and I have a deeper and more secure relationship than I ever imagined or expected. We will always work out what we need to work out.

I endangered it by hiding my worries and troubles.

I won’t do that again, and we both are satisfied with how we dealt with it, openly, honestly, and with compassion and love.

It frightened me and jolted me into thinking heavily about the work I still need to do in my life. I will do what I must to get where I want to go.

It’s not always easy to get my full attention, but when I do, I react.

Much of this comes down to humility in my mind, hubris, impulsiveness, and fear.

I didn’t need to spend much money or dig into my savings. With some talk, thinking, and openness, we turned things around quickly and had good plans for staying solid and whole.

I am not brighter or more intelligent than Maria or more competent. We are equals in every sense of the word. It is good to acknowledge that.

We both are anxious people. We are also strong people.

Her partnership makes dealing with this possible; my openness makes that possible.

I feel a huge weight has been lifted from me. I don’t need to do this alone. This is what many men fail to understand about feminism. It makes life easier for them, we don’t have to carry all these burdens alone.

It doesn’t threaten me. It empowers me.

I had this idea that I was more potent and more intelligent than I was, while all the time, my decisions were made out of panic and ego, not reason.

I learned long ago that nothing ever comes of panic, certainly not reasonable and healthy solutions to complex problems.

Humility is the greatest freedom.

As long as I had to defend the imaginary self I had constructed that I thought was essential and true, I fell into fear and confusion.

I lost what Thomas Merton calls “your peace of heart.”

I learned that when I began to take myself too seriously and imagine that my virtues and values are essential because they are mine, I became the prisoner of my vanity.

Even my best ideas and works and impulses can blind and deceive me. To defend me, I begin to see sins and faults everywhere but where they exist – in me.

I learned something else from this experience.

Maria and I are both anxious people, we have both suffered from chronic anxiety, and I have been treated for that disorder for much of my life.

But that doesn’t mean that she is not strong or that I am not strong.

Together and apart, we set out to live the lives we always wanted to live and do as much good as possible with our skills, blogs, and stamina. That was frightening but required strength and stamina.

Because she had suffered from so much anxiety, and I had, I made the mistake of thinking she might be too fragile to deal with the realities of our lives – there will never be a lot of money; that is the choice we both made together.

Because she is anxious, that doesn’t mean she is weak.

Like many arrogant men, I have always planned to do excellent, even spectacular things.

I could not imagine myself without awards and achievements or even a halo over my head.

When the events of everyday life remind me that I am insignificant and mediocre, I am ashamed, and my pride refuses to swallow truths that should surprise no sane or rational person.

“Be content,” wrote Thomas Merton, “that you are not a saint…”

I am grateful to be reminded of that.  I am not a saint.

Thank God.

That is the freedom of humility.

 

10 Comments

  1. Your kind and generous heart always wants to rescue people, to give them what they so badly need. It is very hard to say “no” . Everything has become prohibitively expensive which makes charity work difficult and all the more meaningful. It is enough that you co-ordinate everything and do so much running around!
    Bless you for all you do.

  2. Hey! Let’s not bad mouth mediocrity and insignificance! There was a terrific article in yesterday’s Times — “The Country That Wants to ‘Be Average’ vs. Jeff Bezos and His $500 Million Yacht”. Made me want to move to the Netherlands. “Here in Holland, we don’t believe that everybody can be rich the way people do in America, where the sky’s the limit. We think “Be average’ That’s good enough.”

  3. My parents were poor children of the Depression. They were energetic and hardworking and industrious but we’re frugal as we grew up. My dad was a bit of a dominator but knew to trust Moms wisdom and instincts about money and people. After I worked trading on Wall Street a while, I realized Mom would have been great at trading.

    Her wisdom kept us afloat. But her 50s opportunities did not allow her to shine.

    Many men today under ~40 are a lot wiser about equal opportunity and honest openness.

    Good share. Now go shoot some flowers and send to GettyImages.

  4. Even IF the woman (or the man) is supposedly “not as good at handling money” that does not absolve anyone from making a joint decision. Handling money is one small part of making the right decision for the household. Intuition, dreams and desires factor in as well. Tough lesson.

  5. Many families have a regular “business meeting” to discuss these topics. A time to raise $ concerns, questions, income changes, taxes, budgets, inflation, investment/savings. etc. Quarterly works for my husband and I because we have to file tax quarterlies (1040ES). We find this is a good routine. I am a saver and he is a spender. This is one of the ways we constructively (well, most of the time constructively) differences in our approach to $.

  6. Thank you, Jon, for this very home-hitting piece of writing! And, for the spectacular photos of your flowers which seem to get more beautiful by the day. Your insightful writing today could not have come at a better time for me. Again, thank you!

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