Today marks the British publication of Sarah Ban Breathnach's "Peace and Plenty", and though I have had the book in my possession for a while now, it has taken this long for me to be capable of acknowledging the raw nerve upon which this book, from the most important author in my life, has touched. Money isn't something we talk about is it? Our circumstances vary so wildly that even amongst our closest friends we play our cards close to our chest and pretend we all exist on a level playing field. But the truth is we don't. And we very rarely give enough weight to how our personal financial circumstances dictate the way we live our life and more than that, the way we see the world as a result.
In Peace and Plenty, Sarah Ban Breathnach, lays bare her own experiences of what it is to go from a very ordinary financial existence to one blessed by wealth and back again. It is all there: from the privileges of sudden wealth, to the deeply personal embarrassment she feels about her instinctive financial frivolity. Terrible waste. Unheeded generosity. Emotional spending, Financial illiteracy. And the marriage that broke her.
Because she is broken. It is there in every beautifully turned sentence. Page after page we discover evidence that she has come undone and while at times this makes for deeply uncomfortable, rather sad reading, we read, not to gloat, but to understand.
We read to understand how it feels to lose everything. To observe our own reactions to such loss: sympathy or disgust? Understanding or utter bewilderment? We read not just because, Sarah in her own inimatable style, soothes away our own shame and dispels our very real fears by daring to speak out her own financial truth's, but because here is a woman we care about: a woman we relate to: a woman we suspect is just like us.
Much more than a confessional (and indeed the details of her downfall are sketchy enough to leave many questions unanswered), Peace and Plenty is also an ode to thrift, with enough references to our darling Vintage Housekeepers to satisfy those with no vested interest in Sarah herself, and the same tone and format familiar to those who fell in love with her when they discovered Simple Abundance all those years ago.
On a personal basis I found the book painful in the extreme. The most difficult relationship of my life has always been with money. Because I both fear it and revere it. Because I don't understand it, don't respect it and often declare I don't need it. Because I've never had it, not really. Because I had it and then I lost it. Because life remains a matter of scraping through regardless of what talent I may or may not possess. Because I don't trust myself to have it and fear who I would become if I did. Because I let it trickle and WILL NOT LET IT flow...
After the failure of my gorgeous interiors business when I was twenty five, as the complicated result of staff theft, I almost lost everything. I know what it is to sit in front of a judge and beg him to let me keep my house. I've pawned my vintage engagement ring and gritted my teeth and refused to provide sexual favours to a bailiff who promised to wipe out a debt I couldn't afford to pay if I did. I've watched my Mum and Dad go to hell and back and been incapable of helping financially and I lost my relationship of many years to the pressures of trying to survive in the aftermath. Money has exhausted me and frightened me. At it's hand I have, in the past, shivered and gone hungry, I remain beholden to Finley's Daddy and I have no pension or savings to speak of. No safety net, beyond that which exists in my purse on any given day of the week.
And I know that the vast majority of people will never understand how it feels. That they will, thank God, never experience the terrifying, dis-orientating spiral of relative poverty. But then this isn't about money. To me, and to Sarah, it is about spirit. And survival. It is about gratitude when we can find very little material reason to grant it, and it is about getting up every morning and refusing to give in to sorrow, but instead choosing to use every last drop of ingenuity we possess to forge a future for ourselves and those who love us. It is about adversity and pride. Above all else about pride. When society tells us only that we should feel ashamed and we have only got ourselves to blame.
Perhaps now times are changing. Peace and Plenty is timely when the old sureties are being threatened by global financial ruin, and so many women are having to tighten their belts. While ultimately this book will neither truly sate the curiosity of those only interested in the juicy gossip behind Sarah Ban Breathnach's third divorce, nor provide solutions to those who now find themselves in financial straits, it more than earns it's place on the bookshelves of those willing to engage in the dialogue Sarah has been brave enough to start. Those who will no longer fear admitting their own monetary terror, moments (or years) of idiocy, or deeply ingrained prejudices against those who aren't as financially blessed as they may be. Those who are ready and willing to stand up and be counted in a conversation that is long overdue.
I for one am grateful to Sarah Ban Breathnach. Not just for the opportunity to exist in the company of a woman I both profoundly respect and deeply empathise with all over again, but for writing that which is in my experience at least, the last taboo, in polite society. For giving me permission to feel proud of what I have achieved and forgive that which is what it is: temporary foolishness in an arena in which we women were never fully versed.
We are OK. I am OK and Sarah Ban Breathnach is OK. Money will never define us.