Once, two very different people died.
The first was a grandfather in his seventies who was helping his daughter and son-in-law build a new house. After finishing his work one day just before Christmas, he promised to return and trim the windows. Then he went home to spend the evening with his wife. As he sat speaking to her, a heart attack snatched him out of the world. He was never conscious again, and died within a few days at the hospital. His shocked family missed him, but found consolation in knowing he had followed God and his life had been rich with love toward them and others.
The second person was a widow in her nineties. At one time she’d bought a new five-hundred dollar suit every week to wear to a country club. She called the employer of her ex-brother-in-law’s new wife to accuse the woman, falsely, of breaking up a marriage. When her younger sister died, she said, “I’ll not shed a tear over this one.” She teased her nieces and nephews constantly about the money she would give them. The money never came, of course.
The man was a father of one of my friends, a mentor and former teacher. Though I never met him, I can tell from knowing his daughter that he was truly a good tree, according to his fruits (Matthew 7:16).
The woman was a distant relative of mine. Her family always dreaded visiting her. All deaths are equal, but not all are the same. A failure to show love or generosity to anyone, ever, is the worst kind of death (1 John 3:17).
My parents and I helped clean out this lady’s house after her move to a rest home. We found she’d kept a secret list of the money her siblings had inherited from their mother, likely in hope one would die and help her pay off the huge debt she’d accrued from buying out of catalogs. We set up a yard sale to pay for her eventual burial.
As I watched the sale, I remembered the teaching that the end of people who live with pride and greed instead of love, who see people as walking dollar signs, is to be scattered (Luke 1:51). If I live this way, I thought, then someday strangers will come to my house and cart away all my possessions, too, the sofa where I watched TV and the table where I ate my lunch alone. Instantly I felt convicted about my preoccupation with saving, investing, hoarding, selling, winning, making. These things were important, but they were not life.
Instead of feeling superior or self-righteous toward this elderly lady, I felt a shiver of vulnerability somewhere deep in my own flawed self.
The point of having money is not to love it, but to be blessed with freedom from thinking about it too much. And the purpose of life is to live with a different kind of richness, toward God and others, regardless of one’s checkbook (Luke 12:19; 21). None of us can boast in this respect. We can only pray to forget the green, and do better.
Anthony Otten has published stories in The Jabberwock Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, and Wind. He has been a finalist for the Hargrove Editors' Prize in Fiction. Still: The Journal has published an excerpt from his novel. He lives in Kentucky.
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