Thursday, February 23, 2012


Each day I trudge off to Mercy Philadelphia Hospital to take care of whoever somebody asks me to see.  Insurance companies pay them for what I do.  In exchange a deposit of a larger sum than I've ever earned before finds its way to my account at PNC Bank biweekly which then accumulates until the Washington University tuition payment becomes due.  When I take $60-100 from the cash machine every couple of weeks for my own expenses, the balance on the receipt seems to grow most of the time.

Yet I do not live differently or even have these proceeds earmarked for anything in particular other than those relatively finite tuition payments.  Prosperity has both a reality and a mindset.  "Who is rich?  One who finds pleasure in his portion." [Pirke Avot 4:1]  There is a challenge to earn that income, a satisfaction inherent in acquiring skill and applying it for a purpose that has value.  Accumulating money, though, should never be an end in its own right.  There are funds for personal maintenance, investments in the future, protection for the might happen, some for generosity to others, and some for indulgences that bring their own pleasure but are of low priority.

Earning this comes at the expense of time and energy.  The day usually starts while still dark outside and ends while darkness has reappeared.  Much of the time is spend with patients and junior colleagues, which may be a form of indulgence in itself, considering what most other people do for their livelihood.  For all the strains and periodic pressures, I am hard pressed to think of anything else I would rather be doing from one day to the next.  Maybe having a little more protected time to write or to do a research project without patients coming at me randomly in some form.  But for the most part the means of earning income has its own personal satisfaction so spending those proceeds on my own hedonism is probably less of a goal for me than for others who accumulate their extra funds in a more onerous way from which they have a greater need of escape.

As I approach a year and a half of salaried employment, I find myself less generous rather than more in my tzedakah.  I still give the same amount, allocated each month with a note of appreciation to every recipient.  But the donations no longer occur on time, instead getting clustered into a few at a time.  I've not given to United Way or my alma mater or even the WashU Hillel, not because of any reduction in fondness for them but because of competing strains on more limited discretionary time.  I've made an effort to schedule some time with myself, usually to go out for breakfast on either a Saturday or Sunday morning.  This may be a concession to more money, since in the past I would go to Sweeney's Bakery around the corner on Saturday morning for a $1 coffee and on Sunday to Einstein Bagels with my 99 cent refill mug and my Franklin Planner to look over the week.  Now the breakfast is only one day but more ample.  It has been my custom for a couple of years to go to a place I've not been before once a month.  Usually it is someplace local like a new store but now I travel a little farther on a day trip once a month with a budget of about $100, maybe a little more if I start doing overnight excursions this coming spring. And if I get a performance bonus I would like to replace the ordinary tub in the main bathroom with a jacuzzi.  My concession to creature comfort that I would not have otherwise afforded myself.

Yes, prosperity is a mind-set.  Frugality a beneficial habit that has served me well and is unlikely to undergo drastic revision by a larger savings account.

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