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my riches

Last week, I wrote about coming to understand how:

my siblings
and i are rich in ways 
others probably wish
they were, or
would if they
such riches
are even

Our riches aren’t in cash. Poverty started us in a money-pit, so that the three of us will be paying student debt for another couple of decades for the privilege of climbing halfway out of that pit.

No, our riches ran deeper than that. I just couldn’t figure out how, or begin to imagine explaining it.

And then … I found a book.

Near its entrance, my neighborhood library has a little table of books for sale. It’s been there since I started visiting this library, but I never bothered looking at it. I figured it had too few offerings for any to be up my alley.

Fortunately for me, my older son looked at a couple of the kids books one day some weeks back. This prompted me to pause and look at some of the adult books, which led me to the surprising revelation that several of them were up my alley. I began looking at the sale table every time we went to the library.

A couple of weeks ago, this led me to a book whose cover a bunch of plain yellow dots, with a smiley face peeking out from the dark space. The image and title resonated enough with me that I took the book home.

the antidote.png

Each chapter of the book addresses a different aspect of the negative path to happiness. I hadn’t been aware of such a path, but recognized parts of it as my own the further I read.

“it would probably
sound weird saying this
to just about anyone else,
but … i think we were
profoundly lucky
to have the mom
and childhood
we did”

The Antidote’s fourth chapter, “Goal Crazy: When Trying to Control the Future Doesn’t Work,” included a couple of passages that struck me. Were they telling me how my siblings and I are rich?

Faced with the anxiety of not knowing what the future holds, we invest ever more fiercely in our preferred vision of that future – not because it will help us achieve it, but because it helps rid us of feelings of uncertainty in the present.

We fear the feeling of uncertainty to an extraordinary degree – the psychologist Dorothy Rowe argues that we fear it more than death itself — and we will go to extraordinary lengths, even fatal ones, to get rid of it.

My siblings and I grew up in uncertainty. We knew we weren’t assured food, shelter, or physical safety. Sometimes we weren’t even sure we were assured life.

Those uncertainties were miserable then, but … was it possible they’d made us more comfortable with uncertainty compared to many of our friends and peers today?

I shrugged off the question, plowing onward to see what else there was to see.

In Chapter 6, “The Safety Catch: The Hidden Benefits of Insecurity,” I read about how “the strategies that are designed to bestow a feeling of security often don’t actually leave us more secure.” Indeed, “‘Things are not permanent, they don’t last, there is no final security,’ [Chödrön] says. What makes us miserable is not this truth, but our efforts to escape it.”

The author, Oliver Burkeman, describes meeting people in Kibera, “Africa’s second-largest urban slum.” While the specifics of their lives of cash-poverty were unlike mine in small-town Oregon, U.S.A., the generalities felt broadly familiar.

Burkeman’s Kibera section close left me with the joy of finding an answer. Yes, my siblings and I had, after all, been blessed with freedom from certain illusions:

Above all, living in a situation of such inherent insecurity, while very far from preferable, was clarifying. Nobody would envy it. But living with fewer illusions meant facing reality head-on. Not having the option of trying to protect yourself in counterproductive ways made for resilience in the face of hardship that qualified, in the end, as a modest but extremely durable kind of happiness.

Finding an answer is, of course, different than finding the answer. What I’ve discovered the last year is that these breadcrumb-answers leave a gal even more full of questions, and hungrier for more answers.

Thank goodness for that hunger! Understanding more, but still not nearly enough, I found my way to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile.

For me, learning to speak Politics was a journey to find a vocabulary: words to express new-to-me phenomena, and explain how understanding those phenomena changed my whole understanding of the world. Far more than any other book, Antifragile gave me new vocabulary and, really, horizons.

When I finished the book yesterday, I was sobbing from–gratitude, and understanding. I called my just-younger sister and told her, “We’re not ‘resilient.’ We’re antifragile. Far from simply weathering a rocky childhood, we emerged from it strengthened by what we’d faced and confident in our ability to not only withstand but grow from whatever’s ahead.”

Now, several hours and a little sleep later, I sit in the sweet, dark quiet of early morning, thankful for everything that has led me to this moment:


my mom;

my siblings;

my husband and children;

and, of course, a quality for which I didn’t even have a name two days ago,


  1. September 8, 2017 at 3:59 am

    Interesting post, Deborah 🙂
    It is another kind of view, as we get from life, when we grow up with not too much of everything. We did learn to appreciate everything and every kind thought behind, I feel.

    • September 8, 2017 at 5:30 am

      Exactly so! I feel like I fell into a kind of daze, for years, where I forgot how important these things were to shaping me.

  2. September 8, 2017 at 5:29 am

    One of Antifragility’s key premises is that the world is full of much less linearity and predictability than many people perceive; by recognizing this, we can begin to adopt strategies that decrease environmental and population fragility/increase antifragility. One of HBR’s articles from yesterday touches on related ideas with poignancy:

    “How can an entire metropolis that encompasses the lives, culture, and wellbeing of millions be considered ‘nonperforming?’ The physical installations, infrastructures, and architecture upon which Miami are founded were built on what we now can see as a flawed assumption. An assumption of permanence. … As long as nothing disturbs that perception, value will continue to accrue on paper. But if the perception of permanence that underlies those expectations is undercut, market value will disappear. Value is in the eyes of the buyer … until its not.”

    For more, please see: https://hbr.org/2017/09/coastal-cities-are-increasingly-vulnerable-and-so-is-the-economy-that-relies-on-them

  3. September 8, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Riches beyond price. And the realisation of those riches is wealth in itself.

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