Last night, I took a brief look at our main bank account and my heart constricted with fear. The blood started pumping faster, rushing sound to my ears. My breath moved from my chest to flutter high and shallow in my head. What was I going to do? Stop, breathe and pray. Okay. Back up, sit up straight, close your eyes. Breathe in, count 1-2-3-4, hold 1- sweep the thread -2- of fear clear -3- from the web -4- of thoughts in my head-5, breathe out 1-2-3-4-5-6. Breathe in 1-2-3-4-5-6, hold 1-2-3-4, breath out 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. When the counts reach an even 8 counts on both ends, I ask the question again. What am I going to do? Now I can think.
Assessing the situation, I realize I need $934 in my account by midnight or my mortgage payment and my son’s preschool tuition payments will both bounce. I have $905.56 in combined funds. First, transfer every cent from the connected accounts to checking. Next assess my other accounts. Credit Union 1 – $25, enough to cover an outstanding check for $25, so $0. Bank 2 – accounts closed. Bank 3 – accounts closed. Bank 4 – $28.20. Good thing I didn’t transfer that to the loan balance last week like I usually do. My gut said I should wait. Further proof I can trust my gut.
Do I have my check book with me? No, I’ll have to go home before going to the bank. Damn! Okay, don’t get distracted. That brings me to -$0.24. I have a quarter in my purse that I saved for my son’s piggy bank, but the bank will be closed so I won’t be able to deposit it. Drat! Did I give that last dollar as a tip on Friday, or did my gut prevail over generosity and keep the single dollar in my wallet for an emergency? I was already giving a 20% tip, wasn’t I? Wow! It’s there. Break for short victory dance. My gut prevailed. I’m thrilled I listened to it, rather than the snide comment in my head: “What kind of emergency could be fixed with a single dollar bill?” Apparently this one. Yet another confirmation.
I gather my things and drive straight home, barely processing the book that’s playing in the car. It’s a good one, so it keeps panic at bay for the long 42 minutes door to door. As I take off my seat belt, my husband calls to say he’s on the way to pick up our son. He pinpoints his location at an intersection 5 minutes away from the school. There are 2 minutes left before we’ll be late picking him up. I focus on my breath, raise my eyes, use my breath to calm my heart rate and hope he makes it in time so we don’t get charged $5 a minute for the lost time. The clocks at the school are often slower than the one in the car. It could happen. If we have to pay, it will be next week and there will be a deposit before then. Okay. I thank God our son is in the care of such compassionate people and walk in the house. My husband signs off, recognizing that nothing he’s saying is getting through the focus on my mission. I sigh, open the door and turn off the alarm.
From habit, I walk to the front door, open it, and retrieve the day’s rubber-banded mail from the metal box attached to the brick facade. There’s a letter from the New Castle County False Alarm Administrator. The alarm company put in sensors that could be tripped by a heavy wood spider and we’re being charged for a false alarm that was triggered while we were out. Since there was no evidence that we were being robbed when the police visited our house, we’re being charged a $200 fee. Robbery in my book. Focus on the breath. Look for the check book.
I rifle through every drawer of my desk where it could be and the checkbook is nowhere to be found. Where could it possibly be? Okay. Breathe. How can I get a check? Do I have the box of extras? Yes, yes, okay. I write myself a check for $28.20, countersign it on the back, replace the pen in the proper drawer and leave. I don’t turn on the alarm when I leave.
When I get in the car, I confirm that the check has been written as it should, get the single dollar from my wallet, and place it on top of the check. It’s an old bill. George Washington’s face has been rubbed off in places, but it’s legal tender. The deposit is ready. The drive to the bank is smooth and easy. I resist the urge to speed and focus on even breathing. A couple is driving away as I pull into a space across from the door and ATM machines. It looks like I’ll be alone while I make my small deposit. The relief pushes out of my lungs with an unexpected sigh. I’m embarrassed, but why should I be? I’ll be able to cover our bills.
I take out the wrong card and barely notice, my attention pulled to the slight shake in my normally steady hands. Will it work? Can you actually deposit a single dollar? I really hope so. Breathe in – hold – breathe out. Holding the breath in the middle can lighten my head with a buzz of dizziness, but it does clear the burst of panic. I replace the green card in my wallet and take out the blue one. So far so good. The check and the dollar are still on the passenger seat. I take them and straighten myself up. It’s time to do it. Breathe.
At the ATM, I breathe steadily, fending off the fear while I take action to prevent the next backward step in our financial progress. The buttons don’t make as much sense as usual. What do I push to make a deposit in checking? There’s one to deposit a check in checking, and one to deposit cash in checking. They’re favorites of mine apparently. I need to do both. Can I do both at once? No. I choose. The dollar first. I arrange the dollar like the picture on the machine and wait for the prompt to slide it in. It goes in. Yes? There’s a wait and $0 flashes on the screen. It was not able to read the bill, which shoots back out at me. I turn it around and try it again. No luck. And again. No. Okay, the check first.
The check goes in just fine, the image of the green check flickering to life on the screen. It is accepted. But then what to do – deposit more checks? No. Exit the system? No. Go back to the main menu? No. How do I deposit the dollar? No choices for that. I breathe again. Deposit more checks. That does not work. The check slides out of the machine toward me. There is now a line at the second ATM. The lady retrieving money smiles compassionately. The man behind her tries not to look curious. I go through the process and deposit the check again. This time I choose the main menu. $28.20 has been accepted. That leaves the 24 cents to cover. Now for the dollar.
Want another transaction? Yes. Deposit cash to checking. The tremor in my hand bubbles up again as I move the dollar toward the slot. It goes in. Pause. It comes out. I keep the face up, turn it around. It goes in. Pause. It comes out. I flip it over. The dollar goes in. Pause. It comes out. I’m not giving up. I keep the back up, turn it around. it goes in. Pause. It comes out. “Why are you trying to deposit one dollar?” The un-curious man asks? He’s young, tall, a bit scruffy and fidgety but seems harmless enough. I opt for the simple truth: “If I don’t, I’ll be short a few cents for my mortgage payment, and another one that comes out tonight. There’s no more to put in.” He bites his lip. “What if you put a twenty with the one?” I stare. “I’ll give you a twenty. If the machine takes the one with it, you can withdraw the twenty again and give it back to me.”
Thank you. Doubtful, I give it a try. It was a nice thought and I want to respect the kind gesture, although I’m pretty sure it won’t work. No reason to be rude. I put the twenty with the one and go through the procedure. Only the twenty registers. I push the button that kicks back both bills. “Thanks. I appreciate the thought.” I hand back the twenty, a little hopeful, but not willing to ask. He pockets the twenty with a muffled “Welcome,” missing his wallet. I think a second. “Hey, do you have any singles?” He lowers his eyes, shaking his head, and ducks quickly away. I sigh. Another man is coming. I decide to to ask him as well before heading across the parking lot to the Boston Market. “Excuse me, do you have a new dollar bill I could trade for this old one? The machine’s not reading it.”
A little bewildered, the man hesitates for a blink before pulling a crisp one dollar bill from his wallet. We exchange bills and turn in synch to the two side by side ATM machines. Relieved, I start babbling a bit, confessing and thinking out loud. “Let’s see if this works? Always on the knife’s edge you know? These days anyway….” He grumbles assent: “Yeah. We all are.” I push the button to deposit cash in checking. “We’re making progress but times like these really make me feel it again. Oh, there it goes. Yes!” I’m wildly, irrationally ecstatic about finally managing to get the machine to accept my meager deposit. “I’ll have 76 cents left over if I worked it out right.” The embarrassment I felt before I got out of the car to face the ATM boogeyman has morphed into pride with my success. The man nods and smiles, genuinely happy for me, happy to have made a difference for someone.
“You hang in there,” he offers, a little awkwardly. “Thanks. I will.” My elation has loosened my tongue. “My husband and I make a game of it, seeing how we can make the best use of what little we have. One time he was about to deploy to Iraq and he wouldn’t get paid until the day after. He was a Marine, you know. I was out of work for the moment, and all we had was five dollars and seventy-eight cents or something like that to buy food for the weekend.” We finished our transactions, got back our cards, and moved a few steps back from the ATMs. The man listened politely as I finished my rambling story. “We wanted to have a good meal but didn’t have much in the house. We went to the commissary, ran around comparing and exploring until we had the best deal for the money down to the penny. It was fun,” I finished awkwardly. We both shuffled uncomfortably for a few seconds. “Well, keep positive,” he said. “Thanks again!” We hurried back to our cars. My latest catastrophe had been averted.
As I was buckling myself in to the driver’s seat, the pieces of a puzzle I’d been wrestling with for days fell into place. A week ago, a friend made a brave revelation. She was at ground zero in her soul and had no idea what to do. What could I say that would be at all useful? What could I do from so very many miles away? Was there anything I could share that would help? Recovering from my adventure, I realized I’d forgotten a huge piece in what I’d been planning to communicate through this blog. I had worked through the reasoning, written the first story and sketched out the next set of discussions in a logical way. I’d been asked to talk about the nuts and bolts of living a conscious life, all the things that I do every day to try to make myself a better person. I was going to talk about each part of my day and the tools I use to stay on track, keep it practical and tangible. But, I’d forgotten how I’d gotten to the point where I had tools to use.
When you’re broken and alone and don’t know where to turn, when you feel listless and unworthy, when every day brings another challenge with the potential for humiliation or disaster, how do you even start thinking about change? The devastation is just too big and compelling to see around let alone work around. Now I plan to develop the pieces in the middle, lay the foundation before moving on to the maintenance.
So, I decide to survive. Gratitude tore my eyes from the misery. Now what? Well, it’s complicated. There’s a lot of work and research to do.
- clear the wreckage
- focus on the here and now
- find things to be grateful for
- embrace the struggle
- figure out what I want
- figure out what works for me
- figure out who I am
- accept myself
- figure out what I believe
- figure out who I want to be
- make a plan
That’s what builds the foundation for the daily work, and the first steps on the path. It’s practice and experimentation in itself. Once it starts it never really stops. There is always something to improve in myself, always a new field or method or person to learn. There is always more to clear away – misunderstandings, ignorance, poison, pain, anger. The essence of the path gets clearer and clearer as I walk it, but there’s always a piece I can’t see. The support under my feet, the lengths in either direction just beyond the bends in the road, are beyond me. But, I feel the support, enjoy where I am, and keep moving forward at a steady pace. When the panic seeps in, I breathe and get to work, get moving. That’s what I can do.
Thanks for sharing the journey with me today.