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Making The Very Most Of Good Fortune

by Mary Jo Shannon

I’m sure you’ve heard stories of men or women who became suddenly wealthy through no effort on their part – lucky in the lottery, inheritance, etc. Often you hear later how they squandered their fortune through extravagant spending and became penniless. (The story of the prodigal son in modern times.)

But the opposite extreme is also unfortunate — those who hold on too tightly to possessions and run the risk of losing them. (This prototype is also mentioned in the Bible – the man who decided to build larger barns to hold all his crops – then learned he would die that very night.)

My mother-in-law treasured the lovely gifts she received – lacy handkerchiefs, silky pink nightgowns, hand crocheted dish cloths, linen tea towels – all “too nice to use.” After her death we found them, tucked away in her dresser drawers, some still in the boxes with tissue paper. Saved for “special occasions” that never came.

I remember how thrilled my ten-year-old son was when his poster won a Baskin-Robbins contest.  The prize was a card that entitled him to thirty-one ice cream cones. Imagine that! Thirty-one ice cream cones! I expected him to indulge daily, sampling all 31 flavors, until the last number on his card had been punched. But I was wrong. He was so careful to prolong those treats that his card still had several left when it expired.

But the best example of this particular flaw – at least in our family – occurred several years ago when Harry and I were returning from a Caribbean cruise. We disembarked in San Juan, and when our flight was ready to leave, an announcement notified us that the flight was overbooked. They asked for volunteers to give up their seats and wait for a flight the next day, enticing us with promises of meals, lodging, taxi service to our hotel in Old San Juan, and free tickets to any city within the United States.

Harry looked at me and I nodded. We had recently retired and were unencumbered. And the beauty of Old San Juan beckoned us to an extra day of sightseeing. We volunteered.

We felt like royalty when we entered the luxurious hotel where we would spend the night. El Convento Hotel, a former Carmelite convent, was built in 1651. We were captivated by its Old World charm, its cream-colored walls, arched doorway and spacious courtyard with living palm trees. Once we stowed our luggage in the spacious closet, we decided to take a walking tour of Old San Juan. Across the street was San Juan Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere. We took a long walk to El Morro, a fortification that protected the island from attack centuries ago. This was particularly interesting to Harry; I enjoyed the view of the Atlantic and San Juan Bay and the warmth of the tropical sun. Later, we shopped and listened to the street musicians strum their guitars and show off colorful parrots.

After a delightful dinner at the hotel, we stretched out on the bed with the goose down pillows and dreamed about using our free tickets – the bonus we took home with us from this fairy tale adventure. It had to be somewhere special – some place we had never been before. Perhaps on the West Coast in California, or maybe in the deep south – New Orleans. Or, Texas might be a suitable destination. No need to hurry. We didn’t want to waste such a great opportunity.

The magazines on the airplane as we finally headed home showed numerous tempting locales, but they only made it more difficult to decide. Once home, we put the tickets away and trusted we would find just the right destination. As we slipped back into our regular routine, we forgot about those tickets, until we suddenly realized a year had passed and they had expired.

What did we learn from this experience? I think we realize the importance of not postponing enjoyment of living, waiting for the perfect time or place somewhere in the future rather than in the present. This doesn’t mean we should squander and not plan for the future. But it’s senseless to hoard opportunities to live fully. Life is a daily gift and each day is ours to use to the fullest.

So let’s wear that new shirt and not put it away for a special occasion; open that box of chocolate truffles we got for Christmas and share them with loved ones; and travel while we’re healthy enough to enjoy it. We don’t know what tomorrow brings!

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