A Wedding, Some Debt, and a Funeral – The End

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Is this it?  Is this what we CAN’T WAIT to grow up for?

A couple of weeks ago I attended a funeral for a good friend and business associate of mine of over 10 years.  He took over his distribution business in February of 2007 and I took over my shop in October of 2007.  We nurtured a relationship that was founded on business but grew into a respect, and sympathy for each other as we pushed forward in our pursuits.

This friendship grew as our discussions would turn to family, religion, celebrations, and mourning.  I came to respect this man, deeply, and admired his humble approach to business and life.

I was shocked when his wife called (not the fact that she called, for she helped him often in his day to day tasks) and informed me that he had passed away in his sleep.  No warning signs, no struggle, just a peaceful passing on from this life in the comfort of his own bed.  He was 53 years old, a mere 5 years from my hopeful retirement age.  See Here I Am.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and the joyous event of one of my wife’s cousins getting married was proceeding.  They were married at the same venue as my wife and I were, so when we wandered the grounds with our two children in tow; the memories of wedding pictures, smiling faces, COLD (we were married in February) and the anticipation of how wonderful a life together would be all came flooding in.

As they came out of the doors to the alleyway created by friends and family clapping and cheering them on; they looked so young, so naive, so…..happy.  I considered what my plan was when I was in his shoes.  What were my goals, hopes, and dreams……

Then I am forced to face what the present day holds as I sign loan documents that will refinance a loan I took on mere weeks after I took over the business 10 years ago.  This was a loan that we were pretty much forced into, and has haunted me for 10 years, and will continue to linger for many more.

I feel as though I am a prisoner being held at the bank, forced to sign these documents that will hold, not only the business I have worked so hard to build and grow liable for, but myself, personally, as well.  I feel as though I am making a deal with the devil, a deal that will hide in the corner of my mind waiting for some special occasion to arrive like a birthday or an anniversary.  An occasion that will bring me so much joy and hope, only to be crushed by the sudden remembrance of the deal I have made and the burden it holds.

So is this it?  Is this what we simply CAN’T WAIT for?  To get married, get into debt, and then to live and work to pay off that debt only to find death knocking at the door?

I will tell you that out of all of these events, the funeral had the most positive impact on my life.  That may sound odd to you that the funeral, not the wedding, would be the inspirational moment for me, but let me explain.

I had intended to only go to the viewing that was to be held on a Friday night.  It was to be held in a town that is about an hour and half drive from where I live.  My wife was recovering from a surgery, and we decided that it would be too much for her and the kids to take the long drive, only to attend a viewing, and then drive all the way back home.  So I would be going on my own, and attending the viewing on a Friday evening made the most sense rather than to attend the viewing and funeral service on Saturday.

Saturdays are a day I hold sacred for projects, playing in the hills, and just doing what I want for once.  Trading that in for a day in a larger city (cities are one of my least-favorite things) attending the funeral just didn’t appeal to me.  After all, I wasn’t family, and didn’t feel the expectation of having to attend the actual funeral service.  I could pay my respects just the same at the viewing on Friday night.  It would serve the same purpose for the mourning family, and was more convenient for me.

But something kept nagging at me; kept prompting me with the thought that I should attend the actual funeral service.  After a long tug-o-war in my mind, I finally decided I would attend the full funeral services on Saturday.  I admired this man, I wanted to show my respects, and I was interested to learn more about who he was especially before I knew him.

As I sat among strangers in the church, I immediately felt a warm and inviting atmosphere.  I could tell that those who surrounded him and his family during this time of sorrow were much like him.  They were humble, kind, caring, and happy people.  And the speakers confirmed that.  They were who they were, because of his influence in their lives.

They talked about how his life was filled with service and concern for others.  How, even though he was a busy man, he made time to visit with those in need.  He would go out of his way to stop in and see someone who he knew needed his time.  They talked about his honesty, and integrity.  They spoke of his deep love and devotion to his family.  His family was his world, and he made it a point to prioritize that in his life.  The more I heard, the more I realized that he was more than a man, he was an angel to everyone he came in contact with.

And suddenly, that is when the thought settled into my mind; he was not hugely successful at his business pursuits by worldly standards.  He struggled to pay bills and didn’t own a vehicle newer than maybe 12 years old.  He didn’t have a corner office that branded him as powerful, or respected.  His business was a tool.   A tool to provide for his needs, while he took care of what mattered most.

I immediately felt a wave of emotion come over me as I suddenly saw myself in similitude with him.  I have worked so hard over the last 10 years, focused on my business.  I have stressed, worried, and been burdened by every aspect of it.  It has consumed me and aged me.  But for what?!?  I don’t have respect and power in my community because of it.  I don’t have a corner office and the newest vehicle we own is 11 years old.  So what do I have to show for my struggles, my stresses, my worries?

Now, I should clarify, that these stresses and worries were not focused on financial success.  I have never assumed, or held a hope that I will be a rich man some day.  That I will have money flowing from every account under my name that I can use to buy land, mansions, fancy cars, and exotic vacations with.  But I do feel a HUGE sense of responsibility to provide for my family, not only the daily needs, but in a way that they can live comfortably.  I am also driven because of the debts that are laid on the business.  Most of these are an unavoidable part of building a business, and accepted as standard procedures.  But they weigh heavy on my mind because there is always that doubt, that thought of: what if I fail?  And the answer: we could lose everything!

And so I stress, struggle, and worry.  I work tirelessly; physically during the day and mentally during the night.  My world revolves around my business as it has to be considered with every decision we make.  So what do I have to show for these efforts?  What has it earned me over the last 10 years of struggle?

Well, I have a wife who loves me and helps me daily keeping the books and doing odd jobs at the shop.  I have two children who are growing in a clean, comfortable home.  They have food on the table, and in the fridge.  (To the point of us having to beg, literally, our daughter to please eat!).  We have good running vehicles that are dependable and comfortable, and that are owned outright.  We have been able to go to the hospital when needed, and go on trips when wanted.  These are the things that I have to show for my hard work.  I have enough.

That’s when I had the sudden stupor of; what am I working and stressing so hard about?  I have met my goals.  My family is well taken care of and provided for.  The debts are maintained, and while they are not gone all together, they will be if given some time.  I’m not rich; overflowing with wealth, power and prestige.  But I never expected that.  I just needed to take care of the things that matter most to me…..and I am. Their physical needs at least.

When I die, the legacy that I leave behind may include my business; whatever it may be at that point.  But the legacy that matters, will be my family and the other relationships I have made.

How do we find more than A Wedding, Some Debt, and a Funeral in our lives?

I don’t have all the answers, but I’d like to share my thoughts over the next several posts.  I’ll call the first The Allegory of the Hammer.

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