His Response Floored Me. It Changed My Life Forever.
Flashback. The year is long gone but I was not a happy camper. We were in the midst of the Christmas Season and Linda and I were not doing well, Our finances were a disaster. The Uptight Suburbanite was three months from launch and we were skating on financial ice thinner than a piece of Scotch Tape. Sleep deprivation was the norm and we were not sure the area would accept a publication as off-beat as ours. Now add normal family issues and a dispute with a neighbor, and the stage is set for this column.
I was on my way to New York to attend and sell, sell, sell ad space at a convention at the Jacob Javits Center. I was concerned (scared is a more accurate word) as to my ability to pay my way with the limited amount of credit that remained on my one good credit card. But before I headed out I had to make one stop. I was on my way to a photographer to pick up a group of pictures for one of our new advertisers.
As I drove into the far Northeastern portion of Philadelphia I passed retail mecca after retail mecca. I discovered more shopping centers, strip malls and retail box stores than I ever knew existed. All of the locations were decorated with bright lights and a rafter of Christmas and Hanukkah trimmings. I saw tons of shoppers carrying big bags of gifts and wrapped packages. The back seats of many of the cars and the SUV’s were just jammed with goodies of all sorts.
The more I saw the more unhappy I became. I could barely “pay” attention let alone go on a shopping spree. I was not jealous … I was annoyed with myself. I kept asking “ME” why I was in such poor shape at this late point in my life. After all, I was fairly smart, worked hard and had the drive to succeed. What had happened, I kept asking myself, to put us in such dire financial straits? As I said, I was far from being a happy camper. And the bells, the carols, the bright trimmings and the happy people scampering about did little to improve my mood.
I was late when I finally arrived at the photographer’s studio on Bustleton Avenue. As I dashed up the stairs at Olympic speed to the second floor studio I almost ran over an attractive woman and her three young children. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
And this is where my real story begins. This woman was magnificent. She was truly beautiful … with the carriage of a goddess and the face of an angel. Her smile alone could have been the cause of “global warming.” She had it all. And she was dressed immaculately with the finest clothing and jewels, and not a hair out of place.
Her three children were also fabulous. She had twin little girls that I guessed where five or six years old. They were really cute with big blue eyes and blonde hair and bubbly, giggly personalities. Her son was two or three years older and just looked like “Mischief Incorporated.” He had a little wide-eyed face, a devilish look and lots of freckles. The three kids were just as cute as cute could be. Well dressed and extremely polite, they made quite a family.
I made the polite excuses for bumping into them (knocking the little boy down) and we then spoke briefly before they left. I watched them disappear down the steps. When I got to the top of the landing I looked out the window and watched them all pile into a brand new Mercedes … the big one. And as they drove away I spotted that not only was this Mercedes the big one, but the car had the biggest motor available and initials on the trunk that indicated it was a high performance machine as well.
The photographer and I spoke briefly and I mentioned that I had to run because I was late and wanted to avoid New York traffic. My final words were about the handsome family I had just spotted and how some people “really did have it all.”
His response floored me. I will admit that I will never, never forget it. It changed my life forever. He smiled and slowly told me in a barely audible voice that they were indeed a special family. Then he dropped the bombshell … she had been diagnosed nine days earlier with a terminal illness. Her disease was neither curable or operable. She had learned that she had somewhere between two and four months to live.
So, this morning, she had gotten up early, went to a professional make-up artist and then got her family “dressed up” to take this set of photographs. Her husband had left before I arrived. Her motive was quite simple. She wanted her children and her husband to remember what she looked like before the ravages of cancer destroyed her body and ultimately took her life.
She knew what was to come and wanted her family to have these pictures … the image of her before her next journey started. She was there so that her children and husband would never forget her as she was prior to fighting a battle she couldn’t win.
I was spooked. There are no words to describe how I felt. I had no air left in my lungs. When the photographer told me he worked with a make-up artist who did several of these “jobs” a year, I was even more spooked. To this day, I cannot get the image of those little children jumping about as they followed their mother across the street to her car out of my mind. Some things really are “reality checks!”
I sat down in my car and just sat there, and sat there some more. I am not ashamed to admit that my eyes watered and tears ran down both of my cheeks for quite awhile. She was not my wife, they weren’t my kids, I didn’t even know their names … but I will tell you that it was one of the most upsetting moments in my life. It took me a good fifteen minutes before I finally dropped the car into gear and headed for New York. My finances no longer seemed important.
The Big Apple did little to improve my mood. My heart was not in what I was doing. The “great salesman I am” just about struck out. When I finally returned to my hotel room I couldn’t sleep. Every time I closed my eyes I saw that woman, whose name I didn’t even know, on the ceiling of my room. I could not get her or her kids to disappear. I wasn’t going to get much … perhaps any … sleep that night. I tossed and I turned. I turned the lights and the television off and on over and over again. Nothing helped. The family remained on my ceiling.
Finally, at about one thirty in the morning I gave up. I got out of bed, got dressed, checked out of the hotel, jumped into the car and headed home. I only wanted one thing at that specific moment in time. I wanted to be with my little family. Finances and my other troubles were a very distant second in my mind. I knew what was important to me.
On the way home, as I barreled down the Jersey Turnpike, I called my son in Seattle and my daughter in Denver. It was late … even by West Coast time … but I wanted to speak to them. I wanted them to know how I missed them and our grandchildren, and how I despised living on opposite coasts. Each time I finished a conversation I awkwardly hung up and continued on to Exit Six.
When I arrived home I frightened Linda half out of her mind. She was petrified as I entered the house and the alarm went off. When she heard that it was me, she calmed down and figured maybe our one good credit card wasn’t so good. I just gave her a long hug, made enough noise to wake our son (and half the neighborhood) and suggested we go downstairs for a three-in-the-morning-snack. They looked at each other, waited for me to say something else (which didn’t happen) and then we headed for “Linda’s Room.”
To say that my behavior appeared very odd would have been an understatement. But at that moment in time, I was really incapable of explaining my actions.
I just wanted to talk to my kids. I wanted to be there with my wife and younger son in the privacy of our home. It was for me a very special moment. I will always treasure it. If I had any assets in my life, I realized that “they” were on the phone and in our quiet kitchen with me.
It took me a long time (almost two years) before I finally told Linda what was behind that quick trip home. To this day I try to suppress it from my mind. I still find it hard to discuss. It is, sort of, in the most private recesses of my soul. And yet tonight, as I sit here writing, I wanted to share this sad little tale with you, our readers.
Life has been good to us. Our publication is now an accepted part of the region. We have grown from 7500 copies a month to the point where we publish some 80,000 copies every thirty days and can be found in some twenty-two zip codes in the area. Our December printing has five editions and a collective total of over 80 pages and a hundred plus advertisers! We are very, very thankful and appreciative.
We still work very hard but we are earning a living. The thin strip of Scotch Tape has been replaced by a “thin piece of ice.” Hopefully it will get thicker. I now have three credit cards (two are in good standing) and I can sleep at night. I am thankful…
I say this not to brag … it isn’t my style. But today with so many in America hurting, I decided to share my tale. We have high unemployment, people losing their homes, students unable to pay their loans, the middle class is getting clobbered by the cost of living … plus so much more. Jobs and industry have and continue to evaporate. Our national and state debt is beyond massive and growing daily. We have two political parties unwilling to work together or with the President. Corruption and favoritism run rampant. And yet, with all that is happening … perhaps BECAUSE of what is happening … I had to share my tale.
Life can get very troubling, very scary, and very upsetting. At times it can just plain “SUCK!” We all have our horror stories. But let’s always try to remember this one thing, unless they are taking that “FINAL PICTURE,” we still have it all. With reasonable health, family and a little help from the Lord above, we still have it all. No matter how bad it gets, it can and most often does, get better. Hope is a very good four-letter word.
Linda and I started over when I was already on Social Security. We were flat out broke. We are so fortunate. Many stories don’t turn out so well. The Lord above has been good to us. Our readers and advertisers have been loyal and most helpful. Our friends have stuck with us.
I am extremely thankful … appreciative. And I wanted to share this with you. Sometimes when we are overwhelmed by the big picture, we need to remember the little picture. The little picture of a husband, his courageous wife and three little kids. Let’s be thankful that it isn’t our “Kodak moment.” Let’s lift our heads high, stick out our chests and get ready to “kick ass” in the coming year.
Again, allow me to thank you and extend my wish that we all have a good year. I pray for peace in the world and a day when cooperation between people begins to fix what is so wrong in this very wonderful union.
God bless this nation and a happy and healthy New Year to all.
Your opinions are always welcomed.