Years ago I read a story – a very short one – that has stayed with me. I’ll tell you about it here although, unfortunately, I cannot credit the author – I don’t remember where I read it or who wrote it. This story is about taking a shortcut in life. Not a shortcut TO money, but a shortcut PAST money, one might say.
The story is about a man named … let’s just call him Jim. Jim was a hard-driven businessman. He was now in his 50’s and had spent his entire adult life building his business. He worked long hours and had spent too little time on other aspects of life, including spending time with his wife, his kids, his community, and on his health and spiritual development.
One day two weeks after his 53rd birthday, he fell ill at work. It started with a nauseous and ill-at-ease feeling. He thought it indigestion. It did not subside, however, and that feeling grew into a heaviness on his chest. He started to feel panicky and couldn’t catch his breath. When his secretary walked in and saw Jim, she immediately called 911 for an ambulance. Jim was diagnosed with a mild MI. He underwent angioplasty and recovered quickly and fully. A month didn’t even go by before he forgot all about it. It was like it never happened. Three months later, the same sensations – the chest heaviness, difficulty catching his breath, and the fear – recurred, only this time much more severely. Again the ambulance, the ER, the diagnosis of a second MI, and angioplasty. This time his cardiologist was much tougher on Jim and was blunt in his instructions for Jim to change his lifestyle. Jim reluctantly agreed to see a nutritionist and begin a workout program.
During his first session with the nutritionist, Jim was visibly annoyed. He didn’t need someone 20 years his junior telling him how to run his life, after all. But there was something about this younger man that made Jim decide to play along – maybe the nutritionist made Jim think of a younger version of himself. In any case, Jim made it on time for each of his four scheduled sessions. He even brought his wife for the third session and the three of them discussed what kind of lifestyle changes Jim and his family could make.
During the fourth and last session, the nutritionist took a risk and asked Jim a much more personal question than he had dared to ask before, “What do you most want out of life, Jim?” Jim moved back in his chair, surprised by the question, somewhat annoyed but maintaining his eye contact with the younger man. Finally, he looked down and said, “I want to have a million dollars in the bank.” (Since this event happened years ago, a million dollars was really something back then.)
“Why do you need a million dollars, Jim?” the nutritionist asked. Jim looked wistful and was silent for what seemed a long time. Finally he said, “I’d like to go fly fishing in Montana every summer… I did that once with my Dad. I remember it still.”
The nutritionist waited and then said softly, “Jim, you don’t need a million dollars to go fly fishing in Montana. You can just go.” Jim didn’t say anything more. But later that summer he did make a trip to Montana … with his son. And the two of them continued to go every year for many years until Jim became too old and too sick to travel.
That’s the end of my story. I have told myself something similar several times in the years since I first read this story. I say, “Jack you don’t need a million dollars to ….” Sometimes I succeed in shortcutting past money and sometimes I don’t. But, you know, I’m not done yet.
Until next time,
“Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.”
– Will Rogers
“I think and think and think. I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, and never once into it.”
– Jonathan Safran Foer