This semester has been an incredible journey. Not only because my dream of moving to the North Country of New York has come to clear fruition, but the work I have been blessed with at area colleges has done far beyond filling my bank account. It’s filling my spirit: students full of vigor, faculty and staff full of welcoming gestures, empty offices begging for artwork and books to line their shelves. Along with all this is the opportunity to team-teach a class for freshman that, yes, teaches them their basic writing and communication skills, but goes way beyond. It gives both them and us (the course is team-taught) an opportunity to dive into subject matter that may not be our expertise but is something of great passion to all of us. We’re exploring poverty in the North Country and discovering and creating solutions. We’re pondering what wealth actually means and learning that dollars have very little to do with it. And so, in a desire to find ways to alleviate poverty and to help those in our county, one of the poorest counties in New York State, we landed this frigid morning in DeKalb Junction, NY at Sugar Hill Farms.
When Renee greeted us and graciously invited us into her home to get us out of the cold, my jaw dropped as I crossed the threshold: high ceilings made of thin-paneled strips of wood, a wood floor that was old, and authentic, and even scratched here and there, a wood floor that was begging to tell stories of the people and animals that had trotted across it, sat cross-legged on it, slipped, fell, danced, slid, and possibly made love upon it. This house was old, yet they’d infused it with a modern country charm, every single piece of furniture picked carefully, full of history. It was hard to assume anything but that they loved to go antiquing. The house had a song. The colors were perfection. And the plates and other kitchen goods were upheld in pieces of old farm furniture, not the typical kitchen cabinets we all know so well. Nothing matched, and yet everything belonged. Love was everywhere.
Then Renee began to tell us her stories. Her husband had had a very well paying job. They’d lived in Boston. They’d loved it. But they were traveling a lot and being transferred, and as children arrived in their lives, they began to wonder if all the money he was being offered really equaled wealth. And in those years they began to redefine wealth for themselves, for their family, and they made a move back to the North Country, where they’re both originally from. They gave up all the money
The similarities amazed me. I was greatly moved by almost everything she was saying as I leaned against her outdated, white, gas stove. It could be me. I was longing to get out of Boston. She joked at one moment about how paying $3500/mo. for a one-room apartment just can’t be any definition of wealth. She was right. Though I knew in making my drastic move from Boston to the North Country after a long drawn-out divorce, my son and I alone, there would be plenty of hardship ahead. But she stressed the importance of community, of helping a neighbor, and that is, in the end, what wealth is, is it not?
My son and I are blessed here in the North Country. I have better work and better pay and at least 1/3 less the expenses I had in Boston. We have a sunset every night of the week that slowly descends on the farmland our house sits upon, some nights more brilliant, some nights only whispers of color. I have, already, in a short window of time, made friends I know will be friends forever. I have incredible opportunity for myself and for my son, and most of all, I have the Earth: chunks, and acres, and landscapes, and stars, and galaxies, and all of it falling and surrounding us in every direction. I have fresh and organic and local produce and meat overflowing my refrigerator and freezer. I have all the beautiful souls that have supported me in arriving here and all the beautiful souls that will sustain me.
This isn’t everything. I’m not practicing blind optimism. It’s no end of the road. It’s a beginning. Is there more I want? Of course there is. But am I wealthy? Yes. I’m wealthy because abundance is overflowing. I’m wealthy because love is overflowing. It has nothing to do with my bank account. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I looked at it.