Defining the American Dream

Broke Is the New Rich

Posted on Thursday, March 17, 2011


This week I was the recipient of a Barn Raising, but instead of a barn it was my house and instead of a raising it was more of a razing and instead of building a place in which to put my cows, it was more along the lines of preparing the place to try and sell it to avoid The New F Word -- foreclosure.
Until you've had a chance to see friends in action the way I have this week, you cannot fully appreciate the definition of the word friendship. It is true; when crisis strikes, we find out who our true friends are. Often if a crisis is bad enough, like when there's a terrible illness or injury or even worse, when a loved one dies, our friends want to rally around -- they are wringing their hands, wanting to do something, anything. The truth is that most times, when an accident or injury or illness or death happens, there's so little for the people who love us, to do.
But in our house-crisis situation, there was not just one thing to do, but about 987 things that my friends not only could do, but they really wanted to do. They fixed those hundreds of wrong things with my house in a record breaking week of dumping, scrubbing, scraping, dumping, moving, pruning, dumping, rearranging, painting and did I mention dumping? After eight days of overtime back-breaking work, the end result was that my house was a House Makeover; so Extreme it could be a hit reality show. But not Extreme only in the result but also Extreme in that my friends, who's health and fitness has always been my business, now were making my house their business.
Author Deborah Underwood said, there are many kinds of Quiet: first awake Quiet, jelly-side down Quiet, don't scare the baby robins Quiet, car ride at night Quiet. In that same line of thinking, there are many kinds of Broke: the I forgot my wallet and can't stop at Starbucks Broke, the I'm in college and temporarily Broke, the Homeless Shelter Broke and now, there's a new kind of Broke -- the I thought we were rich but now there's no job and should we send our kids to college or pay the mortgage Broke.
So, it was time to sell our heart, I mean, our home, even though none of us were ready -- not our 18-year-old son, who will leave our nest next September, and certainly not our 16-year-old twins who only have one year left at the high school in this school district where they've attended since kindergarten. And certainly not me. Beyond not wanting to clean out eighteen years of clutter and cluttered memories from the basement to the attic -- an idea both overwhelming and paralyzing -- I felt the heartbreak of leaving every time a neighbor walked or drove by our house.

Ask anyone on my street, I am the mayor. I also used to be the Bike Whisperer, having taught every child on our avenue to ride a bike. I'm the Grand Poo-Bah of Halloween parades, the Pet Pastor of dog funerals, and the Maestro of Talent Shows. I soothe myself by reading the paper and reminding myself that this predicament is not the humiliating event that it would've been ten years ago. Today, we are a statistic; we are one in every six families in the country. We are no longer the upper middle class. As a matter of fact I saw a frightening chart the other day that put our family of five under the poverty line. We are poor. Shocking to me, but nothing new in 2011.
But something unprecedented happened since last Wednesday.
In the words of author Gene O'Kelly, not only have I let go of something precious but I've also gained something precious, and that is the palpable sense of being carried by my community when I couldn't walk through this letting go process by myself. How precious the feeling of neighbors reaching out and helping in ways that used to be acceptable (when was the last time you asked your neighbor for even a cup of sugar?). This week, no one rang the doorbell. They just marched in and got down on their knees and started scrubbing.
It took me a week to find out who painted the corner of the bathroom where my two teenage boys had missed the target for the past six years. It turned out to be my neighbors who went in there and anonymously redid that bathroom. They get the MVP (Most Vile Painting) award. Longtime friends built shelves, threw out my too-big-for-my-kitchen fridge and loaned me couches, a dining room set, patio furniture and plants to freshen up the place. Other neighbors arrived with lottery tickets in the hopes that I'd win and get to stay! Such an amazing gift, my friends have given me. In the weirdest way, my house is now the most livable it has ever been, only because my friends have helped me, in the most radical way, to make it the most sell-able.
I normally blog about fitness and I've always said that fitness can be a metaphor for life and what applies to life also applies to fitness -- when we least feel like walking the walk is when it most matters. And from the dirt can arise the most beautiful of flowers. This week, I have been given the gift of community and friendship that almost (almost) eclipses the loss that I will feel leaving this street and this house.
I should also mention that releasing the bondage of all my "stuff' is very similar to the experience of shedding unwanted pounds. We start to feel what it feels like to be free of unnecessary weight that we didn't know was weighing us down until it was gone. Finally, we can breathe.
So if this is the way it feels to be Broke, then I am the Richest Broke Girl in all of history. Bring it on.
THE HUFFINGTON POST - Penny Hoff, Fitness/Lifestyle Coach


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