My cousin Marshall was 55 years old when he died of cancer in 1993. By all appearances, he died a "rich man" per most peoples' standards. He attended N.Y.U. and went on to make and lose his first million by his early twenties. Through shrewdness and an ability to set aside soft emotion, he became owner of a well-known clothing manufacturing company by his thirties, established a comfortable life for his wife and daughters (later for a second wife).
Marshall was born and raised in middle-class surroundings in Brooklyn, spent time in Queens, then close-in New Jersey. I lived in the Midwest and California but we were able to occasionally visit one another. We shared similar interests as kids but grew apart as adults. He was driven to "make" money; I was driven to save others from themselves and their circumstances (and in so doing rescue a remnant of my own past).
A few years before he died, I came to know more of who Marshall attempted to be, but seemingly faltered. He became more generous with his wealth, yet he was known to keep one hand in his pocket, clutching a wad of cash that somehow validated his identity. When I visited him in his New York office in 1987, he took me aside and said, "Lenny, if anyone ever tells you that money buys happiness, they're full of crap". His words affirmed my growing belief that the word "rich" should take on a more substantive part of my awareness as I approached the age of 50. In fact, I've known a number of "dollar wealthy" people who have been quite unhappy regardless of their material circumstances.
As the holiday season is again upon us, I find myself "rolling" in very modest riches that most folks can appreciate. I have enough food to eat, live in a comfortable apartment, enjoy a variety of recreational pursuits because great local medical care has rescued me from cancer more than once. I've got a few extra bucks to donate to less fortunate people and to occasionally treat myself and a friend or two to a night out and plan a neat trip once in a while.
But most of all, I am very happy to be living near my son whose health has allowed him to continue a rewarding career and to caringly raise his three daughters with a loving, supportive and equally hard-working wife. It is a joy to hear the oft-spoken "I love you", from them which I feel so privileged to return by word or in some supportive fashion. I also have a special relationship with a ten-year-old boy who I have known since his infancy via friends and am honored to be considered "kind of a grandpa" to him.
And I live in the U.S.A. which allows me to reinvent myself, be it as a senior athlete, an occasional theatrical performer or just as a cantankerous geezer which I have become. I wish that more people could be as wealthy.
And I wish that Cousin Marshall died a rich man.
It's just a thought.
– Len Lieber, Westlake