By Mark E. Smith
John Sparicino was my first banker. He was in his seventies, and I was 18, having just graduated high school. I was emptying my bank account to go knock around Portugal and Spain for a few weeks, with little idea what I’d do when I got back – maybe line-up some speaking gigs, freelance write, enroll in college, or all of the above. All I really new was that I had read Hemingway, and going off on a foreign adventure seemed like a great idea.
When John asked why I was cashing in my savings for traveler’s checks, I told him of my half-thought plan to go cross Portugal and Spain in my manual wheelchair for a few weeks – and to my surprise, he told me it was the best idea he’d heard in years. “All we have at the end of our lives are memories and the people we shared them with – make lot’s of them,” he told me.
In my roles within the disability world, I deal with mortality on a daily basis – those who are in the process of dying, and those who have died. And, that old banker, John Sparicono’s, words have proved among the most profound wisdom I’ve ever leaned. See, over and over, when I’m friends with those who are terminally ill, money, status, or careers are never a priority. Rather, what they reflect upon are the memories and relationships that truly made their lives worthy and memorable. All the money in the world means nothing when we’re dying – it’s who’s by our side that’s all that counts.
And, what I’ve learned is that the same holds true in life: The relationships we form and the fond memories we make are what truly matters. And, when we move beyond living to impress others with our careers or material possessions, we move closer to lives of true merit, of true meaning, of true connections, where our true net worth is based on who we love and how deeply we love.
There’s someone special in my life these days, and while we both work hard and have the ability to materialistically do some neat things in life, we share the understanding that it’s the seemingly smallest sentiments in life that actually mean the most. We live about two hours apart, so weekends are our time together. Yet, on a Monday, after we’d spent the weekend together, she drove the two hours to surprise me on my lunch break. All the shared gifts and nights on the town have meant a lot, but for her to surprise me with her presence on my lunch break “just because,” meant the world to me – something I’ll never forget because of the genuine sentiments behind it.
Again, what really completes our lives are the true connections that we make with each other. And, it takes an openness and courage to make those connections. It takes a lot to be the first I say I love you. It takes a lot to express true concern for others. It takes a lot to say you’re sorry and make things right. But, when we’re emotionally expressive at that sincere level, we’re building a life of real connections, where at the end of it all, it’s not just a life of disposable goods, but one of everlasting adoration, love, and respect.
Let us not wait till our dying days to realize the ultimate purpose of life: To connect, express, and love others. After, all, we’re all living on borrowed time – don’t let a moment of creating cherished memories slip by, especially with those you love.