As we kick off a new, and hopefully better year than the last, I sit in the half light of my study in front of a dusty computer wondering what these past 48 years have taught me. The question tugs at me like a three-year-old pulls on your sleeve anxious to show you some amazing thing they just did with building blocks in the other room. Healthy, Wealthy and Wise is the theme of this month’s magazine but how does one come to possess them? Acquiring just one is a difficult task, but throwing life’s little lasso around all three at once, now that’s tougher than getting a table for four at Dinosaur barbecue at suppertime.
When I was a child and life kicked me in the teeth because I didn’t make some sports team or we didn’t have enough money to go to Disneyland like one of my ‘richer’ friends, my mom would say, “At least you have your health. You’ll see someday, John Joseph, that THAT is all that matters.” Like every mother she’d toss the middle name into the sentence to better drive home her point with a sledgehammer.
She was right, of course. I never lost anyone I loved until I was a teenager. You know it can happen to people you adore, but until it does you can’t possibly understand or be prepared for it. For me it was a grandfather I saw almost every day of my life. After the tears and endless bowls of potato salad people bring to the house (don’t they just love to bring food when someone dies?) you find yourself sitting in the corner of the room looking at your family while a harsh reality sets in. I could actually lose these people I love, you think. So you yell at Dad when he takes an extra piece of pie or Mom for smoking or your brother for riding that stupid motorcycle too fast and realize your health really is everything. So walk the dog or take a spin class and pass by the cheese doodles that are ‘buy one get one free’ because even if you don’t give a flying fig about your health, I guarantee you there’s someone who loves you more than life itself that needs you around. My dad died in his sleep of a heart attack far too young. So when you see me running on the treadmill it’s for two reasons: cardio is cheaper than therapy and when I kick the bucket some day it won’t be from a broken heart.
Wealth, I have always believed, is a foolish word because its definition changes from reality to reality. I know a guy who works two full-time jobs, owns a half-dozen properties which all generate income, yet all he talks about is how much money he DOESN’T have. No kids to feed or charities does he help. I’ve told him more than once that there will be some very happy nieces and nephews standing over his coffin waiting for the reading of his will.
Contrast that with a woman I stood behind at the supermarket. With a one-year old (in a jacket too thin for the weather) propped up on her right hip, she stared with great intensity at the ever rising numbers on the cash register. When every item had been scanned she fumbled through the cash in her free hand and said in a hushed tone, “I have to put some things back.” God must have sent this angel of a cashier because she scanned her own Price Chopper card to lower the amount and then together they figured out a way for her to buy her groceries while only sacrificing two small things. I wanted to offer to pay myself, but she had a look of pride that told me to mind my tongue.
So what’s ‘wealthy’ even mean? For me, in this economy, if I can pay my bills on time and have enough left over to buy my kids a pretzel at the mall I’m happy. I suspect it’s the same for many of you. Big houses and bank accounts are good for the ego, but I’m pretty sure you only allowed one small carry-on bag for the journey to that final destination.
Which leads us to the last theme from this month’s issue: Wise. I hate to offend the younger folk out there, but wisdom comes with age. It just does. You have to live a little and take the wrong roads to understand which are the right ones. You’re no doubt surrounded by really smart older people offering up priceless free advice, but you won’t take it. What was it Mark Twain said about his father being ‘ignorant’ when Mark was 14 years old, but by the time he reached 21 he was ‘Astonished how much the old man had learned.’ My only advice to you is simple – forgive people. It’s like dropping a heavy package you didn’t want to carry around in the first place.
One of my favorite board games as a kid was Monopoly because it teaches some real life lessons: invest, take care of yourself, keep off of other people’s property, stay out of jail. One thing doesn’t jive though. In Monopoly, the player with the most hotels and money at the end of the game wins. Anyone who is truly healthy, wealthy and wise will tell you if you can leave this world with a quarter in your pocket, a smile on your face and a boatload of friends you are rich beyond compare. And if you got to be the cute dog or cool race car when you played the game that would be a nice little bonus. Being the youngest they always stuck me with the stinky shoe.