Geneen Roth and Alexandra Penney are two sides of the same coin: Bernard “Bernie’ Madoff victims who reacted in dramatically different ways to their mutual financial loss from the biggest financial swindle in world history.
Both Geneen Roth and Alexandra Penney are authors with best-selling books who, coincidentally, lost large sums of money in the Madoff investment scam. Yet because each woman brought her unique perspective to her shattering loss, their blog posts reacting to their financial and psychological devastation demonstrate how critical attitude is to one’s emotional health when coping with negative circumstances.
Penney, for instance, sees herself as a “PoRC” (Person of Reduced Circumstances) and wallows in self-pity, as evidenced by the name of her blog “The Bag Lady Papers” in Tina Brown’s Daily Beast. Penney bemoans the fact she has to sell her Palm Beach cottage and bid adieu to her thrice a week cleaning lady who irons her 40 white cotton blouses and performs other unpleasant chores.While driving down to Florida to sell her vacation cottage, Penney ruminates:
“As I drive, my outlook turns darker and blacker. What’s going to happen to me? How am I going to earn money? You’re going to lose your edge. You’ll get sick and disabled. You’re going to walk around in shreds, paper in the soles of your worn-out shoes. And-oh, my God! I just realized that with all with the bags and boxes packed into the back of the wagon, I’m already a Driving-Around Bag Lady!”
As a Madoff victim, Penney darkly sees herself plummeting to the lowest levels of the social strata, even though she is a well-known author and artist who has the capability to earn a good living through her proven talent and connections:
“I don’t want to feel like an object of pity, a damaged person who’s marked down like a ‘second.’ This, I suddenly realize, is what a real bag lady must feel like: a person who has no standing in society, a sad, red-veined woman with broken yellow fingernails who trudges along with her ragged bags or pushing her rusty shopping cart with all her sad belongings. Where does she go to the bathroom? Where can she wash her hair? She has no place to call home, no place to cheer her. (Source: http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-01-06/the-bag-ladys-papers-part-iii/)
Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, Oprah favorite Geneen Roth who has written extensively on emotional eating finds solace in the lessons learned from her loss. Although Roth claims to have lost “30 years of retirement savings,” she manages to glean personal insight and wisdom from the ordeal and humbly notes her own part in the “crime.”
“Over and over again, I’ve asked myself: Why didn’t I secure the most basic of all things–shelter itself? Why didn’t I pay off my mortgage? And if I don’t engage in blame, I see the answer clearly: because I believed in something else more–I believed in accumulating. And when you believe in accumulating, you see what you don’t have, not what you have.
“My relationship to money was no different from my relationship to food, to love, to fabulous sweaters: I never felt as if I had enough. I was always focused on the bite that was yet to come, not the one in my mouth. I was focused on the way my husband wasn’t perfect, not the way he was. And on the sweater I saw in the window, not the one in my closet that I hadn’t worn for a year…. Although I never would have chosen this path, and although it still feels terrifying at moments, I know I can never see the whole picture in the chaos of the moment.”
Searingly honest, Roth acknowledges her own denial about what Madoff was doing when logic would tell most investors the consistently high returns on Madoff’s bogus investment statements were simply too good to be true. “The devastation is horrible, but if I don’t allow myself to feel this, then I can’t learn what there is to learn. I will not see, for instance, that I participated in the fraud by being willing to close my eyes about what Madoff was doing.” (Source: http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2009/01/07/madoff/)
Two sides of the same coin: Geneen Roth and Alexandra Penney. My fantasy is that the two women get together and do lunch (okay, so maybe not at the Ritz), sharing their tales of woe and shards of insight, their shattered hopes and their new dreams. Because, as Geneen Roth can attest, it’s not what happens to us in life that matters. It’s how we react to what happens.
Sometimes we have to lose what we thought really mattered to us to figure out what is truly of value. And to discover that it’s not something a crook like Bernie Madoff can ever steal away from us.Bernard Madoff swindled investors out of approximately $65 billion.Bernie Madoff pled guilty to 11 felonies, including securities fraud and money laundering.Almost 10 years befor Madoff’s arrest, Harry Markopolos reported his suspicions to the SEC.In March 2009, Bernie Madoff admitted he never invested a dime of his clients’ money. He just deposited his clients’ checks into a business bank account at Chase Manhattan Bank.