January 8, 2004
The Answer Is Love
Excerpt from "More Money Than God: Living a Rich Life Without Losing Your Soul," by Steven Z. Leder
A few years ago, I was called to see an extremely famous and wealthy movie director. He was a friend of a friend, and he was in the hospital. We were strangers, this dying old man and I. Entering his room, I noticed amid the monitors, tubes, and fluorescent lights of the sterile ICU, there was only one solitary breath of humanity tacked up on the wall -- one small black-and-white photograph, some sixty years old, of a young couple in their twenties holding hands on a park bench.
I entered the room, glanced at the photograph, and then focused on the balding, white-bearded man behind the oxygen mask. His name was John. With a curl of his hand hanging limply off the side of the bed, he motioned me toward him, removed his oxygen mask, and tried to speak. Too weak, he replaced the mask, closed his eyes, rested, and tried again. Again and again he tried. A whisper. A mumble. "John, I can't understand you," I told him, "but I'm not leaving until I do. So, rest and we'll try again in a few minutes."
Finally, pulling me gently down over the bed, John pressed his dry lips against my ear and mumbled a simple question: "What is it all for?"
Suspended in a moment both eternal and brief, there we were. The dying seeking an answer, the answer of answers, while holding a stranger's hand; a stranger who was supposed to know. My eyes darted to the little black and white picture, then back to John, laboring for breath. And with Zen-like clarity that surprised me, I uttered a response as simple as his question. "It's to love and be loved," I told him. "They understood that," I added, pointing to the picture.
"You're right," John whispered as he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. In a way, I felt sorry for John. With all of his success, he was dying alone, asking a stranger what life was really about. I believe what I told him. A life well lived is filled with love given and received, the ebb and flow of time and generosity.
No matter what our net worth, all of us can become rich with family, caring, and laughter. We can all invest in and achieve the wealth of friendship. We can all spend less time counting our money and more time counting our blessings. We can all lead richer lives, ever more grateful simply to love and be loved.
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