On Memorial Day, I always find myself reflecting on relatives and friends who have passed away. I try to think of the things they’ve taught me about my own life, my choices, and my values. Here are a few that are particularly relevant here.
My paternal grandfather taught me that being frugal doesn’t mean being poor. He didn’t sit around and complain and dream; instead, he spent every day finding new ways to simply enjoy the world and his life around him. He had an immense garden that he tended to faithfully (and fertilized with compost of his own creation) and he found ways to use and re-use every item he had until it was no longer of any use whatsoever. He did this all with a simple joy and wit that made it seem as though frugality was the most beautiful and highest calling that one could possibly achieve. A frugal life is something to strive for and live with pride, not something to be ashamed of and do out of desperation.
My great uncle showed me that being a successful small businessman meant two things above all: the ability to keep track of every cent and the ability to relate to people. He paid every employee he had quite well and treated them as equals in making decisions, yet every cent that went into and out of his shop was of concern to him. It spoke to his values that every employee his small business ever had more than five hundred customers attended his funeral. Respect and treat with fairness everyone you interact with and life will give you back that same abundance.
My great grandmother held her family as the center of her entire life. She would go to incredible lengths for anyone in her family and there was always an extra plate at her dinner table for any sister, nephew, or third cousin twice-removed that might show up at her house. If someone in the family needed something, she would do everything she could to make it happen, from giving them money to calling up the child of one of her old friends and asking for a hand. She was also the most empathic person I’ve ever known; my fondest memory of her was from very near the end of her life, when she was quite sick. I was going through a depressed phase myself, and when I showed up to visit her, she glanced at me once and told the other relatives to leave. As soon as they did, she set her eyes on me and said, “You can’t fool your grandmother. What’s wrong?” And by the time I left her side, the side of a sick, frail, old, wonderful, amazing woman, I felt happier than I had felt in a long time. Find those values that are really central in your life and chase them with all of your heart.
My first cousin was involved in a drug operation and was making a good deal of money, but the whole business began to burn him out and when he tried to get out, it kept pulling him back in. He eventually began to become very depressed and the last time I saw him he locked himself into a room and refused to come out. He hung himself a few days later. Money isn’t the highest value in life.
The son of a family friend committed suicide suddenly because he was involved in a pyramid scheme that had begun to collapse – he had lost every material possession he had, his wife had left him, and he was no longer allowed to see his children. Just before this, he seemed to have everything: a beautiful family, a wonderful home, and all the trappings of a luxurious life. The pain of his choice hung over his family for many, many years. If a financial scheme has an obvious flaw or it seems too good to be true, avoid it like the plague as it will only bring you pain.
My dog Ruby died when I was five; she was hit by a delivery truck. She was a mixed breed dog that was given to my father because the owner didn’t want it, but I can still remember loving that dog so much that I would get up in the morning and run outside in my pajamas to find her – she would run to me and lick my face. Sometimes it is the free things that are the most wonderful of all.