Unexpected Blessings: What Really Makes us Wealthy?

Taking nothing away from the staggering loss of life and perhaps permanent damage to the global economy, it is possible that unexpected blessings could come out of the COVID-19 crisis. What could those be?

My dear friend, radio personality, Ian Punnett, regularly serves as a guest host on Consistently sensitive, compassionate, and intensely curious, aware that so many people are hurting right now, Ian asked the above question. In doing so, he provided his international audience of millions of listeners with the opportunity to identify and grasp onto even the thinnest silver lining.

I skipped the busy signals and sent Ian my personal answer:

NEED and WANT are now delineated.” 

With social media gurus and advertising agencies shouting at us that it’s not enough to have white teeth, we must marry the hot babe, drive expensive cars, be an entrepreneur/rapper/athlete, our bodies must be perfectly fit, we must not age, just gotta wear this brand, get a bigger paycheck  = power = happiness, and don’t forget to raise exceptionally successful children, we can lose sight of what makes us wealthy.

In a maximum-security prison, I learned that I need so little to be happy and I carry that truth with me today. Eloquently taught by the Rabbis in, Ethics of our Fathers, Who is richHe who is happy with what he has.” 

Being grateful is the path to wealth that doesn’t involve gold:

Trust that whatever is happening is for my benefit.

Recognize that I thrive when I’m needed and be grateful when I’m challenged.

Deep conversations, laughter, and eye contact are like oxygen to me.

A steaming cup of tea is a luxury.

Heck, walking outside to look at the stars is a thrill that I will never, ever take for granted because once I was locked up in a place where we were only allowed to see the night sky during monthly fire drills.

My parents and family wrote love letters to me while I was in prison, declaring their pride for my handling the situation with such grace. (I learned it all from them!)

Imagine if each person in isolation, either alone or in groups, recognized that they are beloved, became aware of the miracle of the tiny flower that grows through the snow, felt truly grateful for comforts such as heat, water, plumbing, internet, and a cozy place to stay out of the path of this virus.

The golden question: What if this temporary pause is the greatest chance I’ll ever have to build myself into the person I am meant to become?

Which leads to: Which steps can I take right now to get from here to there? (If we need assistance, there are people in this circle who can and will help guide us because we are not alone.)
In what could be considered my darkest hours, I became wealthy beyond my wildest dreams. I hope that you will, too.


Wendy Weiner Runge
Wendy Weiner Runge
I am the most blessed daughter, sister, wife, Jewish mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, mentor, speaker, entrepreneur, award-winning film writer/producer, and convicted felon you've ever met. I have exactly 3 skills: I can write, I can tell a great story, and I collect REMARKABLE people. Originally from Omaha, Nebraska, my sense of humor is corny but my gratitude is more expansive than the Great Plains. And my mother always mentions that I am never uncomfortable anywhere.

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  1. Wendy – I’m running a series of podcast interviews with educators on how they’re getting through / leading during a time of crisis. One of the ideas that has come up a number of times – and maybe this is the sliver of a silver lining – is can we not go back to what was “normal” and instead look at how we can transform education so that it more closely aligns with the needs of a post-industrial society? All of the year-end high-stakes assessments that are chocking the life out of schools have all been suspended. Why not keep them suspended. Let’s figure out how to give kids a fighting chance at work and life, and avoid wracking up huge college dept.

  2. Oh my goodness. What an incredible story, not to mention “perspective.” Wendy, thank you for sharing this and for reminding that it truly is the little things the rest of us take for granted every day, that give us sustenance. Great story.

  3. Simply and utterly beautiful, Wendy! Thank you so much for sharing this from your heart!!

    After being placed in solitary confinement at 14 years old (the bin weeks-as I like to now refer to them), I learned at such a young age the difference between need and want. I was cold and without my eye glasses. One thin blanket and a mattress. Staff coming in and loudly asking me in angry voices, “Do you know why you are here?” This question became an existential one that I have asked myself so many times during my life then and since. I had a spiritual awakening and a mental meltdown (after many traumas and too many people not hearing my truths about those traumas…) that landed me in that hospital solitary confinement experience.

    What I know for certain is exactly what you have shared in this essay-eye contact and warm hugs with another human being -I have not ever taken for granted and cherish to this very moment. Words of kindness, soft, gentle touch given and received, compassion of the quiet, holding space variety, being outside with nature-seeing the sky, the clouds, the trees, butterflies, deer, black bear- feels magical and miraculous. All my life I’ve practiced some form of gratitude for the experiences of being alive-all of them-including the difficult, uncomfortable, heartbreaking, unconscionable, and simply miraculous tiny, beautiful things. I take no breath for granted. Practicing meditation, gratitude, mindfulness, grieflove, emotional release of past difficulties, dancing, laughing, running, biking…all benefit my life immensely.

    I believe this is why during this time I’m filled to the brim inside my inner world with clarity, peace, love, joy, compassion, kindness, tenderness that no one and nothing outside of me can alter. I have found safe and serene harbor in the seat of my soul. I relish the simplest things in life that feel like miracles every single day.

    Dare I say, I’ve already become the person I’m meant to be and now it’s time to shine that love and compassion shamelessly and unapologetically for as many days as I am fortunate to take another deep breath of life. Like you, I have become “wealthy beyond my wildest dreams”!!! Indeed.

    Thank you for being you, for offering these beautiful words that evoked these reflections of my own. You are a treasure, Wendy.

  4. Very well said Wendy. We take so much for granted, and insatiably just want more to boost our ego which doesn’t really grow or thrive because of ‘things’ as much as it grows in relation to the things we do that are good and sound.

  5. Oooooooh Wendy, this was wonderful! I especially loved this question you posed: “What if this temporary pause is the greatest chance I’ll ever have to build myself into the person I am meant to become?” My husband and I have been talking about this very thing every day. We find that our lives are actually richer with less. With more constraints.

  6. We are experiencing the loss of almost everything we took for granted until recently. We have lost the freedom to move, the individual ability to decide. We have lost human contact with others. We have lost the certainty that the protection of health is always guaranteed to us: today it is an objective question of unavailability that makes it not obvious for many of us. We have lost the most unmissable right of all: to stand next to those we love in the suffering or in die. To stay with them even afterwards. Whiel we keep intact the hope that all this will end we ask ourselves when we return to “normal”!!
    But we have an intelligence, that is expressed concretely in scientific research, hygiene, social progress and environmental protection. All things within our reach. So, we must not go back to normal: instead we must go on and change almost all of our societies, because otherwise this experience, the most formative that the modern world has ever had the opportunity to live, will have served to hurt us a lot, without however teaching us nothing.

  7. Oh Wendy, well said! The moment we have now to actually see world peace is what I feel strongly about right now. In all of life I have heard many wishes for this to be, the prayers repeated and contestants that wished for…pomp and glamour made it a fashionable wish… but to actually know what it is and what it might look like.. has to be what I see right now. A world collectively fighting for one thing. To just survive. The birthright of dignity in humanity… I cannot think of anything else that be delivered in any other way… we have to think and see, be open minded and accept the bad to see the good…. how can this not be an opportunity but to see how we as humans need to respond to mother nature’s gift….an answer to our prayers. God in all his glory delivers…we are being called to attention.. and like soldiers.. must do our call of duty.. like never never before we are in the same battle.
    Thank you for this added value to the collective notion that there is indeed an inherent need to see the beauty in the storm. What and how will we pray for after this depends on how we deal with things now. Ok I’ll stop there. Lol. Thank you for this beautiful composition. What we thought we needed was overcome by what we wanted. This was so convoluted. Some now see that what they needed was always there. Have a great night my lady! Bless you. Paula.🙏

  8. Wendy, for some it’s the mindset of abundance or scarcity. My mother, whether more influenced by her upbringing (without a mother to guide her) or her own inner wiring never learned that stuff doesn’t always make us happy. We had a great life; my dad owned some small clothing stores, and we wanted for NOTHING. Anything new was fun for her … for a day or two or three. But it wore off, and she needed another new thing and another, but none of that actually helped her to be happy.

    As an adopted kid, I have my own inner wiring that didn’t resemble hers; I got lucky in that and the fact that my dad was her complete opposite. I loved what I saw in him, and have always modeled myself that way.

    I consider myself wealthy beyond my wildest dreams, too! Living near the ocean (OK, a big bay, but still) in a 525 s.f. cottage overlooking the water with my two small dogs, family, friends, good health (so far), and the ability to still work at my age make me one of the luckiest people ever.

    The difference between my mother and me? She was also one of the luckiest people in the world with my dad as her husband, my brother and me, all their friends, the things, the life. But nothing ever reached her core to change it.

    Thank you for the powerful reminder of what can make us happy, Wendy!

    Oh, and Chag Pesach Sameach however you/we celebrate it this year, Wendy!

  9. Wendy, one of the greatest insights I had when working in real estate and having high end clients is the distorted perception of need and want. I left the business in January 2011 disillusioned and broke. Now I make a small portion of the money I did as a top producing real estate agent, but I feel wealthy. It would be a long article for me to explain why, but it is very true for me. Knowing the difference between what we want and what we truly need is a huge gift.

  10. Wendy, it’s great to read an article that has a Torah perspective to it. When pass on our material possessions will not (as you well know) will not come with us. Our real wealth comes from the love of our families, good health, adequate health, nature and so forth. Our greatest wealth is the Torah. Chag Pesach Sameach!