Gathering Real Wealth.
If you were lucky enough to live to seventy or eighty years of age and, during your last night on Earth, an angel came to give you one last quiet hour to reflect on the greatest treasures of your life, what would you think of in that hour? Looking back over your years, what memories would stand out as the diamonds and sapphires on the chain that has been your life? What has been so important that you would want to spend some of that last hour cherishing those memories?
Of course, this is just hypothetical nonsense, but these little games are fun to play – sometimes profound revelations come from such mind games. I wonder how busy you have been over the past years or decades working hard to build financial wealth: working long hours, investing, playing with the stock market, stressing over home loans and investment loans and rental income and minimising tax.
So many of us are dedicated to the accumulation of wealth and the attainment of financial security because we blindly accept that it is the right path to follow. But, in that last hour, will you dwell on precious memories of your rental properties, stocks, shares, luxury car and financial security?
I’ll play the game first and tell you some of the things I would like to remember as important. Some of the memories are just like small photos that are hazy at the edges, some are like short video clips that captured a few moments of time and feeling, others are great spheres of emotion and images fill my mind like iridescent bubbles.
When I was three I walked along the rock wall at Myrtle Bank, our guest house in the Grampians – I looked down at my older brother playing war games with ants’ nests and then looked up at a pair of eagles circling above the valley. I think that is my earliest real memory rather than one prompted by a photograph.
At nine I had the best dog in the world and he loved me absolutely; for years he was my best friend and he made me feel so loved. At some time in early childhood I held a bird in my hand and then set it free and it felt wonderful. My horses – one after another they canter through my memory, shining like gems. Brief flashes of meeting heroes like Olympians Bill Roycroft, Ernie Barker and Kevin Bacon.
In my teenage years I loved my friends. Every night for year after year I would recite, “And bless Lynette and Janet, Karen and Nicki, Di and Wendy, Gina and Shirley, Peter and Cheryl and Sandra,” and there is an enormous bubble of images of my friends that sits in my mind and heart like a fabulous treasure. Sitting listening to Lynette play the piano. Solving the problems of the world with Karen. Janet’s laugh. Sitting by Peter’s piano and being awed by his ability to play. Hearing Peter and Cheryl sing at our high school concert and then hearing them decades later as world renowned opera singers Peter Coleman-Wright and Cheryl Barker. Ah, my school friends – there is a wealth of memories worth time in that last hour.
Then there is university and falling in love for the first time. The star-walks of love and the fiery pits of rejection. Emotions that roared and faltered like at no other time in my life. Walking with friends on moonlit nights through the Great Court at Qld Uni. Driving from Brisbane to the Gold Coast at midnight because study drove us nuts and we wanted to see the sea. Waltzing at a ball. Crying alone, so alone. Hearing Hot August Night play back to back for a whole year as Steven in the room below lived through his Neil Diamond obsession. New Year’s Eve at Surfers with college friends and standing safe beside them as we stared up at the fireworks. The warm feeling of keeping a distant watch on these friends as the years go by and seeing them become respected, well known, lawyers, surgeons, government officials and so on, and always wishing them well.
My outback years. My horses. The stars that blazed so remarkably. A night at Kooroorinya picnic races when I stood in the blackness and gazed back at the pocket of light that contained some of the best people I could ever hope to know. The smell of death in the drought and the cries of hundreds of lambs abandoned by starving mothers across thousands of brown acres. The rising hope of hearing a voice on the radio talk about ‘storms away in the west’ and the overwhelming, pure joy and thankfulness of watching drought breaking rain, hearing it rattle the iron roof, seeing it pour off the bare earth and start the creeks running. Wildflowers. Storms. Friends. Polocrosse.
And my children. For most of that last hour I would want to remember them. Such beautiful babies. Such amazing young people. I would hold those memories of hugs and smiles and achievements and marvel at their value. Here are the greatest treasures of my life: the words, the looks, the laughter, the tears, the joy, watching them walk and run and play, seeing them learn about life, sitting in a chair with a child asleep in my arms as I breathed in the delicious smell of my baby’s hair, checking on them at night and gazing at sleeping faces, watching them laugh with friends as they collected treasures of their own.
In that final hour, I would not remember rental properties, pay rises, a new car, finances, security, an investment portfolio or anything else that had to do with money. I would dwell on the real wealth of my life: memories of the people I have loved, the animals I’ve been blessed with, memories of the places I’ve seen, the emotions I’ve lived, moments of laughter, times of sadness, the events that moved my heart… this is the wealth of my life.
I’ve played this game with friends and every single one came up with a list of wonderful memories ranging from childhood pets to the good feeling of helping a stranger. These same friends spend more time in the pursuit of financial wealth than they do in amassing these true treasures, but they do come up with arguments to defend their financial blind faith.
They believe that if they didn’t work hard to get the financial security of owning their own house and then increasing that financial wealth with investments, they wouldn’t be able to enjoy their children, friends and country. Wrong. I know people who own nothing apart from a car and some clothes – they work on stations and live in station homes owned by the property owner and they enjoy their children, their picnics, their sports, their friends and everything else that could be considered ‘real wealth’ in that final hour. They did not need to build financial wealth and security in order to have a wonderful life and amass the treasures of life that we will recognise in that final hour.
In your final hour, what treasures will you find in your life?