Monday, June 22, 2009

Too Close to Home

Two things happened over the weekend.

One is completely superficial. I had my hair colored on Thursday (gotta hide those crazy grays--they pop out of my head like live wires!!). Over the weekend I went swimming in our pool with my two little girls. Despite using this "amazing" spray on protectant which claims to be the enemy of all things salt, sun and water related (in other words, it promised my hair would be fine during swimming), my hair, upon later inspection, has subtly changed color. There's definitely an orang-y hue to my otherwise brown tresses (ahem--dyed brown tresses). So I need to call up my hair stylist and beg for help. And that means dipping into my cash reserves (if you read my post a couple back where I described my new "cash only" lifestyle). And that means I'll have to work my budget to accommodate an unexpected visit back to my hair dresser.

Okay, so how sorry do you feel for me now...?? 

The other thing that happened is that I got a life lesson that walloped the hell out of me. know how life has a way of giving you lessons in humility  when you least expect them? Well, in the midst of my annoyance about my unexpected Oompa Loompa hair, I got one of those lessons. 

There has been this beautiful house for sale around the corner from my house for about 18 months. It is simply a lovely home--spanish/Mediterranean style home with  professional landscaping and a 180 view of orange county. Nestled into the side of a hill, the house is three stories and tiered with decks that follow the lay of the slope. Over the course of the last 18 months there were several open houses, each with the accompanying flier--the pictures on the flier showed an interior that matched the exterior for loveliness. I'd never met--never even seen--the people who lived there. But I felt like I knew their house. 

Since the house was first put on the market in early 2008 (or perhaps late 2007) the price has dropped from 2.1 million to 1.9 to 1.5 to 1.2...and down, down, down. There was even a period of time when a big yellow sign outside the house proclaimed "Price will drop $50K a week until its sold!!" Still no sale. I thought I knew why--gorgeous house, with an amazing view...but for $2 million I'd probably buy a home in a gated community, maybe someplace a little more exclusive. Oh, don't get me wrong--the neighborhood is great. But only that house and four others on the same street were valued that high (except, of course, during the height of the now-defunct real estate market, when our regular two-story house was valued at the ridiculously high price of $950K.)

Every day as I walked the girls to school, we walked right past the house, always pausing to admire it and speculate about who might eventually buy it. Then, from time to time, I saw a car on the street next to it with lettering on the windows that read : "We Buy Houses." My heart ached a little every time I saw that car. "We Buy Houses." Obviously, the family in the house couldn't afford to wait for a buyer any longer. So this was how it ended for them...

After that, the familiar "For Sale" sign came down. The house was quiet for a long time. Then, this weekend, I was driving home. Like always, I passed the house. There was a hand-lettered sign that read "High Quality Furniture for Sale." Impulsively, I pulled over and stopped, letting curiosity get the better of me. I felt a little guilty as the gentleman of the house (a man not much older than me, as it turned out--maybe 45 or 47) approached me with such a friendly smile that I wondered if it was his house or if an auctioneer was helping them liquidate. 

I looked around, taking in the house. It was as gorgeous inside as the pictures on the open house fliers showed. I stood on one of the tiered balconies and took in the amazing view. I went from room to room, admiring the carefully decorated areas. 

Everything was just right--exactly how I would have liked to do had I the money or decorating savvy. The furniture was all super high-end--Henredon and Charles Fine Furniture and Treasures. On my budget, Pottery Barn is high end. I couldn't afford anything in the house (in the back of my mind I thought that I would finally get a new kitchen table if they had one that I liked and had a price tag less than $1000 bucks. But alas, while I liked the kitchen table, even at fire sale prices it was 4x the amount I could afford--and too fancy for the likes of me, anyway. Inlaid mahogany, gracefully curved  wrought iron legs, mother of pearl touches. And that was their kitchen table! Like I said, I'm a Pottery Barn kinda girl. 

Anyway I got to talking with the nice man who'd greeted me when I came in. Turned out it was his home. Perhaps he'd had a long day and was just waiting for a friendly face. Or maybe he was the kind of guy who shared personal information at a whim. Whatever it was; as we talked, he revealed to me that they had to sell the house and furniture--completely liquidate--at whatever price they could get because his wife had been very ill and had several surgeries. Their insurance didn't cover it. He didn't mention what the illness was and I didn't ask--all I needed to know was that whatever it was, it devastated them. Perhaps seeing my look of sympathy he said, no, no, it was okay--the only thing that mattered was that his wife was alive. They were going to start over.

You have no idea how much I wished I could buy that kitchen table now, no matter that it was way out of my budget and way too fancy for my little house. I shook his hand, wished him well, and left. 

The rest of the weekend I couldn't stop thinking about this family and their situation. It made my new orange 'do not seem like such a big deal. When I told my husband about it, I actually cried. I was incredibly touched by the man's words--the only thing that mattered was that his wife was alive. It made my heart ache for them to think that all they've built up, saved for, worked hard to achieve was being taken from them because of an illness. How would they start over in their mid-40s? I couldn't imagine how I would be in that situation. 

And then, I happened to read that over 60% of bankruptcies in the US are not--as so many like to sanctimoniously declare--due to "irresponsibility" and "lack of self-discipline."(see: or 60% are due to medical costs. People are losing their homes daily because they cannot pay their medical bills--and that is with insurance! It is ridiculous! People shouldn't have to choose between the roof over their heads and their health. 

I won't spend a ton of time on the politics of the dismal state of US health care. But I will say I think it's terrible that we are the only first-world country in the world that does not provide its citizens with health care. (see this interesting article on our politicians' great health care--the modern equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome burns: It's so short-sighted not to care for our citizens--we end up paying twice as much as other countries that do provide health care for substandard care in many cases. But just as bad is the "I got mine" attitude so many people seem to have. That seems to be changing--I truly hope it is. We will certainly see. 

For months I've been reading similar stories of people losing their homes because of a catastrophic illness. I venture to say that it truly could happen to anyone. In 2004 I spent a week in the hospital and nearly died (a story for another time). Our bill was over $35,000. One week!! My husband's insurance paid 80%, but we were still left with  thousands of dollars of bills. We managed it, but suppose my illness had required a month in the hospital? Two months? A year? We certainly would have lost our home had we been in that situation. Like this family. 

And so life has a way of giving us the lessons we need to be decent human beings. And that was a lesson I apparently needed. So yeah, I've got orange-y hair (at least until Jocelyn has room on her very full schedule) But I also have a roof over my head. And, God willing, my health. 

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