YOU: a middle aged woman in mom jeans with two small dogs, walking along the street behind mine the other day.
ME: the 32-year-old who looks 15 who was jogging down the street pushing an empty stroller. The one to whom a crossing guard had remarked only minutes before, “Looks like you lightened the burden a little,” and who replied to him (with probably a little too much candor), “Actually, it’s the saddest moment of my day… but yeah, the stroller is easier to push, I guess.” The one you treated to the hilarious remark, “Your carriage is empty!” making light of his pain without knowing it. The one who was mad at you for bringing it up so lightly, and then disappointed in himself for being so sensitive to an obviously off-the-cuff tidbit of small talk—and who then felt guilty for abandoning his precious little two-year-old girl in day care every day just so they can live in a good little house in a safe neighborhood with decent schools and the ability to pursue the careers he and his wife chose, as if that mattered more than spending another eight hours a day with his precious little girl.
The man who proceeded to emotionally bludgeon himself the rest of his run home, trying to reconcile a harsh reality for the nth time, questioning the expenditure of almost two years he could never get back anyway. The man who finally started to see the bright side—the financial stresses alleviated… the futures provided for… the opportunities he would be able to provide for his children… the safety nets spanning the dangerous gaps beneath his life and his wife and daughter’s lives, the metaphorical cracks between which we are prone to slip when we don’t have a backup plan or when the force of circumstance overwhelms the of power of foresight.
In the end, I think that man would like to thank you. I believe one of the keys to a happy life is appreciating what you’ve got. Each day since I saw you, I have tried to remind myself that my family and I may have less time together than we’d like, but it’s good time, more consistently filled with joy than if we grappled each day with the specter of bankruptcy or lived under a cloud of uncertainty because we had no plans for our future. So while I think I’ll continue to question the extent to which the pursuit of security and material comfort guides my life, and I think that’s probably a healthy skepticism, I also aim to fully appreciate the combination of hard work, careful planning, loving family and friends, and good fortune that has built our safety net and set us up for success.
Money hasn’t bought me happiness and I know it never will. But it has the power to lighten the load as we travel our paths toward happiness. We just have to embrace the gratitude and peace that allow us to notice the load has been lightened.