Two kinds of wealth

I’m not quite sure how it’s received, but I sometimes tell my wife, as I climb into bed at night, “I love my life. I am very thankful.” This seems like a fairly dramatic statement, and yet it is the way I feel at the end of most days, and I repeat it in all sincerity almost every night.

There are many things which precipitate such an exclamation on my part, but these statements are almost always centered on the people I’ve met.

On Monday evening, I was running with a friend and I asked her about her background. Though we didn’t go into great detail, I learned that had moved from New York to Toronto to Philadelphia and then down to North Carolina. She has degrees from Princeton and Yale, and has held a number of interesting positions. She is also clearly a kind and, despite her achievements, humble person.

I truly believe we are put on Earth to be in relationship, yet such moments, when I meet someone of such stature, never fail to leave me in wonder at where I find myself.

Often, people who possess high character and high intelligence aren’t really impressed with themselves. This is good, since those who realize such things would diminish those very traits were they aware just how amazing they are.

Thus, what has become my nighttime habit of marveling at those around me.

In a college town like mine, significant academic achievements are not unusual but this doesn’t stop me from wanting to soak in the knowledge these friends demonstrate. But it doesn’t stop there…

I feel blessed any time I’m around my friend Susan, who is one of the most empathetic and compassionate people you could meet. To observe her is to see a clinic how to make others feel special.

There’s my friend Gordon, who ran a biology lab for years, while also maintaining a position directing military police in the U.S. Army Reserve. Soft-spoken and humble, he is a dedicated athlete who shows age does not need to be an impediment.

One of my interns, Anja, was born in South Africa, came to the U.S. around middle-school without knowing any English, and whose intelligence, conscientiousness, and kindness seem hardly possible in a 19-year-old.

All the people — Jamie, Sarah, Gina, Aaron, Brian, Lindsay, Janine, my wife Robin, and so many more — who make my life rich in a way I would not have dared to hope.

At one time, Joe Louis was among the most recognizable and popular figures in the world. He held the heavyweight boxing championship for many years, and was a huge symbolic figure in America standing up to the ideology of Nazi Germany.

In his later years, Joe Louis had much tragedy. As a result of back-taxes owed the U.S. government, he was forced to work many jobs beneath his status as a cultural icon. One of those jobs was to referee professional wresting matches.

When I was a youngster in Greensboro, NC, I would often go to these matches. In my youth, I could often stand near the dressing rooms where the wrestlers would enter and leave the ring. One night, I stood beside Joe Louis and soaked in the unlikelihood of my having been in that position.

I thought about Joe Louis on Monday night. You see, to a great extent, I feel the same sense of awe around almost all my friends. I know them, their backgrounds, what they’ve overcome, and what they still hope for their lives. Knowing this makes me humble. For someone raised in less-than-ideal circumstances in a blue-collar family, it often feels like what we might imagine heaven to be. Yet these are flesh-and-blood people who make my life rich.

I hope I never fail to sense what a miracle I’ve stepped into. There are two types of wealth: having a lot, and being grateful for what you have. Due to these people, I have both.

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