When Debt Falls Off the Radar of Significance

DH = Dear Husband
Every week before I post, with a couple of exceptions, I read my entry to DH to get his feedback.  For the first time, this week he gave it the thumbs down.  “I know what happened, and even I was confused,” he said.  “People won’t understand, and they’ll get bored.”  Believe it or not, I’ve come to appreciate his brutal honesty.  But I maintain the right to disagree.  And I do.  A crisis arose this week, the details of which I cannot disclose.  According to Dave Ramsey, the average household takes seven years to get out of debt.  Chances are, at least one crisis is going to take place in that period of time for any given household – a crisis that overtakes everything and pushes concerns about money and debt off the radar.  I believe it’s honest and of value for me to write about it.  But if I’m wrong, if you share DH’s opinion, please excuse me this once:
               There are times when money matters lose any significance.  Imagine, for instance, that your spouse goes to the clinic complaining of fatigue and that the doctor discovers a lump.  Or that you’re looking for a book in the room of your teenager, whose recent moodiness you thought was natural, and you find a stash of ecstasy pills under the bed.  Or that your sister calls you in fear of her husband – a man you’ve long considered a brother – because he’s been abusing her for years and things are escalating.  It’s none of the above, but you get the idea of the magnitude.
               Adrenaline takes over and you morph into a state of hyper focus and purpose.  Your plan of action is exactly what it should be, and you execute it with superhuman competence.  Only when the initial crisis is in hand are you overtaken by the cloud of shock.  Considerations of cheap parking or clever snack-packing to avoid purchases of food are not even remotely possible.  Every ounce of energy has to be channelled towards the monumental task of putting one foot in front of the other.  And it’s OK when you trip in your efforts to do so.  When you drive right into the median (no harm done) or when you can’t find the money you’ve just taken out of the bank machine because you’ve put it in the most unlikely compartment of your wallet.
               But this is a blog about financial management and debt repayment, and now that I’m able to step back a bit, I can see manifestations of the change in habits that we’ve adopted over the last few months.   I’ve been a long way from pristine.  My stoic resistance to buying treats gave way to a flood of Band-Aid spending.  Chicken wings, panini, donairs.  Egg rolls for everyone.  More Tim Hortons than I can count.  I knew even as I purchased that I was investing in the superficial for short-term feel-good value.  And I knew that it was OK to do so.  I can tell you that at an earlier chapter of my life, I would have invested more heavily in more lavish distractions.  A shopping spree perhaps.  Or an impulsive week-end trip.  We’ll only spend so much money on Band-Aids now – and that’s on automatic pilot, not conscious willpower.  Improved habits keep working even when you’re not thinking.  Even when you couldn’t care less about them.  They’re habits.
The cloud is thinning out.  I have returned to work and have found myself able to function – even to engage in joking banter with staff and students.  I can drive without incident.  At home, we’re making birthday plans and Christmas plans.  Once again we bear in mind such things as the discount hours when turning on the washing machine.  
I can honestly say that my outlook is one of hope.  As Leonard Cohen wrote so insightfully in “Athem”, “There is a crack, a crack in everything /  That’s how the light gets in.”  I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t at some point or other in their lives suffered a shattering blow.  If we handle these times poorly – if we draw tightly into ourselves in defensive fear or anger– we keep the light out and become bitter.  But if we handle them well, with hearts that are vulnerable but open, the light reaches us powerfully, and we become better – more compassionate; more patient; more understanding; more loving and wise.  We become richer in the way that matters most.

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