Spoiler, you already are
What is a success?
Is it money, higher education, fame, followers, likes, reputation?
Do you compare yourself to others and feel inferior to those who have achieved more material success?
Do you feel like you didn’t achieve your potential in life, that you fell short?
Are you afraid you will die without leaving your mark or legacy?
Does it seem everyone is finding love online, in a whirlwind of digital swiping, casual dating, and having the kind of sex you only read about in romance novels?
Do you feel no matter what you accomplish, it is never enough?
Come with me
I want to take you on a journey.
Meet Roger. He’s 79. He lives in a subsidized senior assisted living facility. He served in Vietnam, almost died when his helicopter went down. He returned to a divided, angry country but managed to find work for a trucking company.
Having married and had a daughter, he divorced when she was grown, had a mild stroke, lost his savings, and now needs help to get around. He was a very good Dad, attended school events, soccer games, gymnastics, ballet, was very patient with his girl who, when very young, would talk for hours about becoming a ballerina and marrying a prince. Like most little girls she wanted to marry her Dad until she fell in love in college and started her own life.
She now visits her Dad in his tiny shared apartment, every week. They go out to dinner on special occasions. Her children adore him. He cries sometimes, when they leave, usually after his daughter tells him, “I love you, Daddy, you’re the best Dad in the world.”
Roger never drove anything other than a used, barely functional car. He never owned a home of his own, living paycheck to paycheck. His teachers in high school told him he was gifted, but he was drafted and wanted to serve his country.
He doesn’t have a smartphone or computer. He watches reruns of his favorite shows on television. He recently started getting friendly with a new resident at the facility, a retired nurse whose family had abandoned her. He listens to her stories like he did his daughter. To her, he is not only somebody, he is her everybody. To her, he is her knight in shining armor.
Let’s go down the street…
…to a run-down trailer park in a drug-infested part of town, where 80-year-old Ester has been living in a leaking, roach-infested, single-wide mobile home since 1979. In her twenties and thirties, Ester was successful by every measure: high paying career, caring husband, home with a pool, vacations.
At 39, she slipped on the ice-coated stairs of her home in Massachusetts, hit her head, and spent 6 months in a coma. By the time she awakened and was largely recovered, she’d lost her home, husband, and job. Seems unfair and improbable but she worked for a private company with no state or federal protections.
Despite having a college degree, at the age of 40, Ester took a job as a waitress in a rundown diner and spent 30 years serving coffee, eggs, bacon, and her dry wit to the regulars who often had it worse than she did.
She now lives with Martin, a longtime customer of hers at the diner who has late-stage of Parkinson’s disease and no family. Half her trailer leaks, so they live in a space the size of a walk-in closet.
Ester is in great physical shape for an octogenarian and drives her 30-year-old Toyota corolla to the grocery store, lugging back enough essentials for her and Martin to enjoy grilled burgers and hot dogs, lots of pasta, spaghetti, and once a month, a steak or fresh salmon.
Martin can walk, but falls a lot and needs some help with toileting and bathing. He occasionally thanks her in the voice of a little boy. It’s not his words that get to Ester, it’s the way he looks at her, in her eyes, like she is the most important, beautiful, kindest girl in the world. Martin looks at her like her husband did before her injury and coma.
They both get up early. She waters their outdoor plants and flowers; he tends to their small indoor garden. Every day around noon they play cards, listen to music on the Bose radio, and dream of buying an RV and traveling the country together. Their only real meal of the day is dinner, discussing it each afternoon as if planning a wedding reception.
Every now and then they speak of regret, of lost opportunity, or wallow a bit in self-pity, but never for long. They are each other’s heroes. They have almost nothing while having everything….each other. And their flowers bloom.
Welcome to Springtime Village
Max bought a condominium at Springtime Village in 1991 at 42, for $35,000. He was a successful accountant and so frugal he reused his dental floss. In fact, they wanted $40,000 for his condo, but he had them substitute the granite for Formica and the real wood floors for linoleum.
He was single. Never married. He dated but could never commit emotionally…or financially to anyone until he met a woman 18 years his junior.
Her name was Sarah, and at 24, she was young enough to firmly reside in the she-could-be-his-daughter territory.
She was the receptionist in the main office of the condo complex. At first, he was dubious when she would smile in a way that seemed flirtatious. What would this young, pretty girl want with a 42-year-old man with Formica and linoleum?
When she asked if he’d like to see a movie with her, his heart skipped a beat.
Within a few weeks, they fell deeply in love with each other. They wrote each other poems. They dreamed of a life together including children. The age difference didn’t matter.
And for the first time in Max’s life, he started spending money.
They ate in fancy restaurants. They traveled to foreign lands. They cruised the Mediterranean.
Max paid for Sarah to go to college and get a degree in education. She had dreamed of being an elementary school teacher and he wanted her to reach her potential.
While they never married or had kids, they were together 10 years before Max came home one day to find Sarah had left him a note: “I am sorry. I will always love you, but I need to move on. It’s not anything you did or didn’t do, it’s just that I’ve changed. I’ve grown. I am a different person than I was. Please understand. Please.”
Max was in shock for several months.
While he owned his condo outright, he had spent his savings.
At 52, he was alone. Zapped of any confidence. Part of him knew Sarah would outgrow him. He was foolish, he thought, to believe he would be able to keep up.
For twenty years, Max lived alone.
He swam in the community pool, played tennis with his neighbor on the weekends. He didn’t date because he knew he couldn’t survive being hurt again.
He would get depressed sometimes, feeling sorry for himself.
Until one day a letter arrived:
”Dear Max, I know it’s been forever and I’m sorry we lost touch. My kids are grown now. I often think of you and the wonderful times we had and how good you were to me. It’s important for you to know, because of you, my dream of becoming a teacher came true. I’ve made an enormous impact on the lives of thousands of children. It wouldn’t have happened had you not encouraged me. I would not have my fulfilling and rewarding life if it weren’t for you. You taught me so much. I am grateful beyond words. You are a great man, and I was lucky to have had you in my life. With love and eternal gratitude, Mrs. Sarah Johnson, Grade 3, Sunnyside Elementary.”
As Max wiped a tear from his eye, he thought to himself, I am somebody. Yes, I am.
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