The great thing about being a journalist in south Florida is you get some really weird assignments. Couple of years ago I went alligator hunting with some wounded vets courtesy of the Wounded Warrior Project. I’ve been assigned to go scuba diving to cover damage to coral reefs. Chased oil in the bayous of Louisiana after the BP disaster. Been to more crime scenes than I can remember and lived to write about three hurricanes. I walked on death row a few times. Watched a man die in the electric chair. Even sat in the electric chair during one visit.
So, last Saturday night when I walked into the newsroom for my occasional, obligatory weekend shift and my editor said, “I’m going to rock your world, I knew it was going to be an interesting evening: “You’re going to Mar-a-Lago to interview the governor and his wife,” she said.
Mar-a-Lago is the palatial, oceanfront estate and swank club owned by Donald Trump on Palm Beach. I’ve been there a few times. Once I rode my bike to a fundraiser luncheon and waited in the valet line with the Bentley’s and Roll’s. Amused the hell out of the valets.
Anyway, I went home, put on the LBD (Little Black Dress), lipstick and my red, patent leather, pointy-toed stilettos and headed over to The Donald’s. The thing about these $500/plate galas is you realize, immediately, that rich people – the top one percent of the ten percent – really aren’t that different from you and me. They have money. Lots of money. But that’s it. They are still people – human beings. We may think they are insensitive, arrogant, self-righteous, clueless bigots but I am no longer willing to write them all off as insensitive, arrogant, self-righteous, clueless bigots. They’re people who just happen to have a lot of money. A whole lot of money.
I used to hate rich people. I carried a huge chip on my shoulder for decades. It started when I was 7 years old and we moved from a small, rural town in northwest Wisconsin to a wealthy suburb in southwest Michigan. These kids belonged to country clubs. We belonged to the Elk’s Club. The girls wore monogrammed sweaters. I taped the holes in my uniform with masking tape. I didn’t like these kids. I was not as pretty, didn’t have their wardrobes or their trust funds. As time went on the resentments grew.
My senior year in high school one of the girls in my class had a tea at her country club for all the girls going “out east” to school. She was going to Smith. I was going to Detroit – which was east of our community in southwest Michigan but apparently not “east” enough. I did not get invited.
You would think the last place I would want to live is Palm Beach but that’s where my career took me. I got married, had a little girl and went right back to work after 6 weeks of maternity leave. I resented having to work. I wanted to be a stay-at-home mommy. I started hating stay-at-home mommies. During the summer I dropped my little girl off at the town’s recreation center for camp. I was dressed for work. The other mommies were dressed in their cute little tennis outfits and sported monster diamonds on their manicured wedding finger.
I grew more and more resentful. More spiteful. I became the victim. I compared myself to them. Some days I would snicker at them, thinking they were so vapid and I was so deep and intellectually superior. Other days I shriveled and told myself what a loser I had become. How dare they be unhappy with that much money!
These resentments festered and stewed for years. As I aged, my resentments did, too. They lived in mansions with gardeners and cleaning ladies. I had a 70-plus-year-old, 1,200 square foot house in what used to be a crack hood. They drove Lexus SUVs and wore Lilly Pulitzer shifts. I looked ridiculous in pink and green. And on and on and on it went. In reality, these women had done nothing to me. If it seemed like they wanted nothing to do with me it was because I was throwing off some really negative, self-righteous energy.
Finally, I crashed. I had experienced a few major depressions before but this one was a doozy. I finally admitted I needed help. I couldn’t work, couldn’t eat and couldn’t read or write. I started on antidepressants and within a couple of months my depression slowly lifted. But my nurse practitioner told me the meds were not enough. I needed to get rid of all my anger.
I started seeing a therapist and she helped me see my anger and resentments. These feelings triggered chemicals in my brain that made my depression worse. The more resentful and angry, the greater likelihood that my depression would linger or get worse. A lot of learning, journaling and a trip to the junkyard with a baseball bat helped with my anger. But those pesky resentments kept popping up – especially toward rich people. I had no idea how to deal with that.
It was explained to me that my resentment toward rich people was the result of me passing judgment on them. Always looking at what they had and I did not. Or what I had – a career – and they did not. I had never identified with them.
“Of course I haven’t identified with them because we have nothing in common!” I yelled.
“But you do. Even if it is nothing more than the fact that you are both women, mothers or both just got soaked in the rain – focus on what you have in common – not what separates you.”
And the clouds parted and I felt like the little grasshopper at the feet of the Kung Fu master.
Of course, this was not as easy as it sounds. I sucked at it for a long time. It seemed like all I had in common with these women was anatomy. But I stayed with it and the more I focused on our similarities the more similarities I noticed. I began initiating conversations with these rich women and they were perfectly lovely, kind and generous. I actually felt compassion for the ones who were not – the bitchy ones who tried so hard to act better than. I realized they are exactly like I was – always comparing – never identifying.
So, there I was last Saturday night with the richest of the richest mingling about. The governor and I talked. I interviewed a former ambassador who was simply stunning in her LBD. Of course, her diamond earrings were probably real but hey, we both wore LBDs and kind of had the same earrings.
I left before The Donald showed. I have interviewed him and met him several times before. Actually, I sat behind him in church last Easter Sunday. I’m a kneeler and he is not. So, every time we kneeled during the service my face was in the back of his head and that hair of his is seriously weird. But I digress.
I really can’t think of anything that The Donald and I have in common. Of course, we’re both homo sapiens and we both went to church on Easter Sunday – and that’s a start.
Red high heels photo available from Shutterstock