We adopted the rich man into our family, serving him coffee, making space for him at the table, acquainting him to life in the Program. As the rich man continued adjusting to life as a mere mortal, he shared more about his fears of losing not just his money, home and the legacy of his business but also his friends, comforts, purpose, value, societal authority and sense of identity. He still lived in his big house, so when the medical van came to pick him up each morning the other group members got to marvel at some of what the rich man was preparing to leave behind.
They talked about the tall gated fence and the long drive from the main road down the private, gravel road to the impressive facade of columns, bricks and the kind of grandeur we didn’t have words to describe. As they wondered what life was like inside, I was mindful about protecting his grief, interjecting thoughts like a gentle paddle to steer us back to the middle of the stream. I won’t lie. Early on, it took extra work not to hit him with that paddle, which would’ve been all too easy given the circumstances, but watching his face as the others oohed and ahhed the requiem of his success, I knew his self-awareness was punishment enough.
We listened, heard and extended compassion for his fears. Some of the men brought him bags of clothes and shoes as others had done for them when they hit hard times. The rich man humbly accepted their offerings, at one point moving his wet eyes from an empty spot on the floor to the place where I stood as if to ask me to share in his recognition of what the moment meant. He may have always known better but now, as the offerings sat in his lap, he was, quite literally, left holding the paper bag.
As a group we stared down questions of inequality, only to arrive at more questions, learning to sit in the uncomfortable silence of what we still didn’t know. The one thing that continued moving us forward until the rich man’s ‘graduation’ (he was forced to leave when his new, less good insurance ran out) was compassion; the compassion we showed him, which he returned to us and eventually might’ve had for himself.
This is a my gently edited response to a vegan activist’s question about inequality which I’ve since deleted because it wanted to live here instead. Fun fact: the answer to any question is Love in one of its unlimited permutations. This story wants to be better but I’m researching agents and editing interview questions, a keynote and a novel…and at some point have to call my mum. xo
The photos are from a trip to Mendocino a couple of years ago; that place is my forever dreamscape.