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What Really Counts - 6/20/2013

You’ve heard it said 1,001 times, that what really matters in life isn’t what’s tangible, it’s what’s invisible to the eye. It’s emotions, feelings, love; those things you can’t touch, or even fully describe that are most meaningful. And how many times have you heard that no one on their deathbed laments the fact that they hadn’t worked longer or harder, bought more jewelry, had a bigger house, or had more money. In the end, what really matters are the emotions you missed, or the opportunities for closeness and warmth and involvement that you didn’t take advantage of.

What made me begin to think about these issues was what occurred this past Mother’s Day. I didn’t buy a card, nor did I really buy a gift, per se. I did bring home an orchid plant that I especially thought my wife would like, but that was a day or so earlier. However, on Mother’s Day, early in the morning, I sent her an email. I told her how much I love her, that I was glad that she’s my spouse, that I doubted that anyone else would have or could have tolerated me as a partner for over 57 years, and that she is a very special lady. The strange thing is, that I didn’t feel any need to buy a gift, i.e., something elaborate wrapped with a big ribbon, or to contribute to the profit and loss statement of Hallmark cards. I was comfortable. I experienced no stress with regard to would it fit, was it the right color, would she like it, was it good enough, should I buy two because one didn’t seem adequate enough to express my love and, most of all, would she be mad or angry with me because that big gift wasn’t there. Maybe it’s a sign of old age. But I’m reluctant to attribute it to that, both because I don’t see myself as that old, despite what the calendar might say, and it would take away from the meaning that I personally derived from this experience, and that I’d like to convey to each of you.

In no way am I saying don’t give gifts or don’t acknowledge holidays because they’re too commercial. I don’t care about those facts. I think we should make a fuss over everything and everybody all the time. But, because we’re human and frequently fail to do it on a daily basis, it’s nice to have certain days set aside that commemorate things that need commemorating. It gives us the opportunity to shake up our routine and do something special for those that matter to us the most. Conversely, what I am trying to say is that, too often, we tend to substitute tangible items for those emotions and feelings that really matter. The gifts are an additive, they’re the cherry on top of the whipped cream, but they aren’t the cake. It’s the feelings that go with the gift if, in fact, they do, that really matter.

More specifically, I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve heard the story I’m about to relate to you.

Hypothetically, grandma dies. And when you finally get around to sifting through all her belongings, you open a drawer and discover, very neatly piled there, a dozen or more nightgowns that she was given over the past five to ten years, none of which were worn. Some of them still in the cellophane wrap. For the most part, you think back and recall that she continued to wear “old yeller”, or green or blue, that was her favorite comfy thing to take out in the morning, or wear in the evening. In her mind, she no longer needed or cared for nightgowns, clothes, jewelry, or new cars. Without necessarily realizing it, she had reached an age when “things” didn’t matter. I liken it to the feelings I had on Mother’s Day, when I looked around my home and saw my grandchildren, daughter, son-in-law and even one grandchild’s spouse, and realized that being together, and celebrating the day was what was essential. Nothing else could compare to the closeness and warmth, the laughter about past incidents, recalling fond memories, and cooking and gathering around the table together. None of which could be wrapped in a package or stored away in a drawer, but all of which are priceless.  

So, the message I’m trying to give each and every one of you is that, on the next special occasion in your life, you can go overboard and buy the new car, update the original wedding or engagement ring, or buy a fur coat - even though you live in Houston, where you’ll rarely, if ever wear it. But don’t let it end there. You can make every day special. Go the extra mile and do the hard thing. Get in touch with your feelings. Reach down deep inside and let them out. Give of your time, make your presence and your emotions the present you give because they’re the ones that will be valued the most, today, tomorrow, and all the rest of your life.

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