When our heroes track mud on the living room carpet

Seventeen years ago, I found an awesome book called Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. I have worn this book out, underlined it, typed whole sections into my smartphone over the years, mined it for never-fail gems upon which I have launched many a blog post. I remember loving her voice, her assuredness as I re-read her words of wisdom, much of it researched by great writers and thinkers, explorers and doers in history and enhanced and made current to our lives, our time by Ms. Breathnach’s own gentle voice and common sense perspective.

It’s not hyperbole to say that she touched my life. I found comfort and balance in her words and reached for this book often. If you’re not familiar with it, she gives an essay for every day of the year and while she mostly speaks to women, her essays cover everything from raising children to digging out of credit card debt to finding your passion to cooking a simple meal.

Today, I looked up the chapter where she addresses Spending Habits. She wrote: “One of the greatest gifts my husband has ever given me is the ability to think before I spend. This is how savers behave. Savers don’t get a high from recreational shopping. Savers don’t shop in order to make themselves feel better…Today, be willing to gently explore your life-energy expenditures. Don’t blame yourself for bad choices. Do attempt to make better ones. Most of our problems in handling money stem from unexamined patterns rather than from uncontrollable urges.”

Okay. Very nice, and as true today in 2012 as it was when she wrote it in 1995. You might have read this in last month’s O Magazine, it’s so current sounding. In fact, Ms. Breathnach appeared on Oprah’s show 11 times.

Which is why I was so shocked to discover that a few years after selling 7 million copies of Simple Abundance, Ms. Breathnach ended up divorced, broke and sleeping on the couch at her sister’s. (As a writer, myself, this is definitely not how one dreams that being a mega-bestseller author will end up.)

We all have heroes that fail us. We are all human. I get that. I think it’s remarkably gutsy to write a book saying you have researched all the answers and then go on Oprah eleven times to underscore the point.

And then trip.

My hat is off to her for trying in such a big way. In fact, I may currently be even more impressed with Ms. Breathnach than I was before her fall. It’s one thing to be all Yoda and wise when you’re sitting in your comfy middle-class home when you don’t have to worry about a day job because you have a working spouse. It’s quite another when you’re homeless, in debt up to your eyeballs and jobless.  Here is one Phoenix, however, I have to believe is destined to rise from the ashes.

Not surprisingly, she’s got a new book out about her journey. But for me, I think I’ll pass. Don’t get me wrong, my hat is off to her and her unsinkable Molly Brown ability to fashion opportunity out of failure, but I’ve gotten a few years under my belt since I last looked outward for my heroes. Today, I’m looking closer to home for that and sorting out the codes and values that define my life the old fashioned way: by trying to live them day by day instead of reading about them.

19 thoughts on “When our heroes track mud on the living room carpet

  1. I’m very similar to your past self, it seems. Always, I’m looking outside of my own life dor heroe figures, but recently I decided that I should just do two things: One, get on with life and make the exlerience-making mistakes. And two, be more confident in myself. We’ll see how thay goes, but this post reminded me of that. Kudos to Ms. Breathnach though. It’s all a part of our very imperfect lives, you know?

    • It was actually helpful to see how she had screwed up; it made it easier to relate to her. Your “two things” are a great “to do” list for ensuring confidence. Nothing like self reflection to edge us closer to self-improvement!

      • Self-improvment is very important, but stories like this help remind me that no matter what I will screw up, and I think there’s a time when you let life happen, if that makes sense.

  2. I believe in living in the present and excepting ourselves for who we are. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what your status is, how famous you are or are not, what clothes you wear or what car you drive, we are all equal, we just have unique talents and skills which define us. That’s just what I believe anyway.

  3. I was sorry to learn of Breathnach’s fall. I was interested in her new book, but the reviews aren’t that good. It is hard when someone we admire becomes “too human”. I figure if you’re on Oprah and the New York Times Bestsellers List that you are above me in your expertise. To see that she is like me, (on a much larger scale) basically broke and re-building a life is dis-heartening. Thanks for the post.

  4. Thanks for sharing, Susan. I gave this book to my mother for Christmas 15 or so years ago. I remember being comforted by her words, even though I was too young to relate to many of the situations she described.
    I hope that her journey (and yours!) has a few more twists and turns.

  5. I have just discovered and started following your blog, and am intrigues and waiting for the book about horses and Ireland to come out. I like your voice and the useful information you impart.

    But I have to say, if you have read about this woman’s journey, you have more information than I. I am a happily married woman who has divorced friends. I will wait to denounce her as a “screw-up” until I learn why her marriage ended. If she got bored and had an affair, that is one thing. But I’d like to know first: Does he beat her, is he a drunk, is he sleeping with the nanny, did he bring home an STD, or suddenly become ‘born again,’ or otherwise changed the rules and conditions of their marriage? There are many things that happen behind closed doors that we may never understand. Who knows what happened to the money? Maybe her very clever-with-money husband tied it up somehow.

    I am very happy for your success, and wish that it may always be so. I might even make my own quiet judgements about this person, but would hesitate to publicly denounce a fallen angel. She was there for you when you needed her.

  6. Hi, Naomi–thanks for your comment and you make a good point about withholding judgment. The interview I read with her basically said she jettisoned her “old” husband and moved to England where she bought two castles (one owned by Sir Isaac Newton) and another mansion here in the states. She married a Brit who, she said, loved her money more than her. She admitted she went crazy buying stuff at Sothebys and so on–bidding on things like the Duke of Windsor’s madagascars-type stuff when she got rich. I don’t know anything about her first marriage or why it failed. (She’s pretty vocal in recent interviews about her last one, tho!) And it’s true, you shouldn’t believe all that you read. She seemed to use her first husband a lot in the book as an example of a good helpmate and confidant, etc. but she might have been just doing that to cover up the fact that she was really miserable.

    • Hi Susan–thank you for your thoughtful reply. That does shed new light on the situation. This woman obviously made some poor choices. And then some. We don’t know why, or what desperation drove her, unless she has chosen to tell all in her book.

      It would be a dramatic and intriguing topic to speculate upon, but I probably would have done so in a work of (thinly veiled?) fiction–perhaps along the lines of the writer version of Scarlett O’Hara, and her rise and fall and rise again. Still, I have heard it said that bad publicity is better than no publicity.
      I have enjoyed your blog, and look forward to reading your fiction.

  7. Very interesting post…with good advice. It is what we do that counts, like you said…not just what we know. And it’s wise to be humble and not think we EVER have it all figured out. When that happens…we’ve set ourselves up for a great fall (but usually we’ve become too blind by then to see it coming).

    • I’m sure it’s hard when you have a clamoring public, great reviews and gushing interviewers telling you you’re awesome, not to think so too–at least a little bit. And you’re right. Once you start thinking you have it all figured out, the fall–if it comes–is twice as painful. Failing publicly has got to be the worst.

  8. Hey – we all make mistakes, and have bad judgement at times. But that doesn’t mean that we have no wisdom we could usefully share, even though we might not always be able to live by our own advice. I’m glad that her previous book gave you such pleasure, quite apart from how the author may have turned out.
    I do understand what you’re sayng though. My favorite book of all time ‘Brother of the more Famous Jack’ by Barbara Trapido, has been really spolit for me by reading her later books, one of which is largely a copy of the first, and another in which the characters become rather sordid and unlikeable – and that’s just fiction!

  9. I know what you mean. It’s publicly making statements that let it all hang out there for all to see. It’s v brave no matter how you look at it. And your fictional reference is a good case in point. BTW: I intend to find it now that you’ve clued me into it!

  10. I have to say that Sarah is so totally honest, so honest……….I do wish her well…………she is definitely real…….hopefully, the next phases of her life will bring her the lasting peace and happiness and joy that she so deserves…….

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