jump to navigation


I’ve been married 24 years, and during those two-plus decades I’ve traveled twice with my wife to the Bahamas, once on our honeymoon and again the following year.

Fast-forward another ten vacation-less years.  I left a job that was threatening a pay cutback, breathed life into my own company, pulled the plug on its life-support during the 90’s recession then rewarded myself after finishing Teachers’ College with a four-day vacation to Vegas.

It rained for three days.

Fast-forward another 14 years, third career, two kids, one dog and a mortgage later, me and above-mentioned wifey take another vacation to Cuba.  It coulda’, shoulda’ been great, except for one thing.


A friend of mine feels the same way.

“I worked hard,” he says.  “Put myself through school.  I’m a teacher; coaching, volunteering, upgrading my skills, yet my brothers, who used to party and laugh at me while I studied, now make me feel guilty for their dead-end jobs and the fruits of the labor I’m enjoying today.”

He calls it Catholic guilt, and though it’s fashionable for Catholics to believe they’ve got a monopoly on self-reproach, I disagree.  I know lots of people (Catholics, Protestants, Agnostics, Atheists) who feel guilty, making middle class guilt, I think, more to the point.

See, I’ve felt guilt my whole life though I’m sure I’m not guilty.  Guilty for my relationship with my father, guilty that I’m not a better dad to my kids; guilty that I’m financially better off than 90% of the world’s population, guilty that I’ve got less than the other 10.

It’s insane.

The pinnacle of my guilt came a couple of weeks ago.  My wife and I went to a movie (cheap night, $4 a ticket).  We purchased some snacks, something we never do, as Slumdog Millionaire came up on screen: Indian kids living in abject poverty while I choked on my $10 popcorn.

Guilt, I thought.  Hard to swallow.

Anyway, back to Cuba.  Despite, or maybe because of, all the economic doom-and-gloom, I booked a last-minute flight to the best-priced island I could find. (If the world’s coming to an end, I figured, best reap some reward before we go down.)

We arrive under cover of darkness, thankfully, avoiding the well-documented poverty between the airport and our resort.  Despite booking an all-inclusive vacation (ha!) our bags were full of goodies for the maids and my wallet filled with tips for waiters.  Still, lying on the beach my guilt got the best of me: calls to the kids I should have be making, blogs for the site I should have been writing; angst over family and friends who couldn’t afford to travel (though I hadn’t for years; see above), and a strange popcorn aftertaste when faced with Cuba’s poverty.

So where does it come from, all this strange needless guilt?  Is it a religious thing or a writer thing?  Does everyone feel it; the bling-laden rappers and millionaire jocks; the tax-evading politicians and bailed-out Wall Streeters?  Or is guilt the result of some widespread middle-class message subliminally hidden on our Cheerios boxes, in our Oprah appeals and our public school mantras?

I don’t know.  I just wish it would stop.

I had a relative once tell me that I could fall into a pile of, you know, and still come out smelling like a rose.  Maybe he’s right but more likely, I prefer to think, I smell from the scent of hard work: years of school, compromise, self-denial and saving; the scent he detects more likely coming from the rose-colored glasses he’s wearing when looking at my hard-won, middle-class life.

But the guilt still remains.

I turn on TV and catch CNN.  A world away, AIG fat cats have awarded themselves $165 million in bonuses from taxpayer money meant to keep the company afloat.  “Some of the greediest people you can imagine,” a spokesman says.

Relief, I think, as a smile crosses my face.

I slather on lotion and walk to the beach where dozens of younger, richer, more gorgeous people than I am frolic and play in the surf and the sand.  Life, I’m starting to realize, is what you make it.  Guilt too.  There will always be richer and poorer, younger and older, healthier/sicker, weaker and strong.  “There”, my mother used to say, (quite guiltlessly) “but for the grace of God, go I.”

It’s not quite noon but I order a Mojito: two shots of rum but not a hint of remorse.

Cheers, I think, to the bloodsuckers at AIG.




No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: