The instant I saw Bob coming toward me in the Madisonville Trover Clinic Parking lot that sunny afternoon I could tell that he was having a great day. His broad smile didn't give it away - he always seemed to be beaming. Nor did his customary whistling or energetic stride serve as a tells. What caused me to abruptly stop and smile was the fact that I saw Bob, pharmaceutical sales case in hand, leap two feet off of the ground and snap his heels together while thrusting an empty fist into the air. What occurred next has played in my head ten thousand times. The narrative that follows in this blog is how I remember the scene.
"I wish I had that vertical jump AND whatever it was that you had for breakfast AND the success you must have just had with those doctors," I said as we exchanged a firm handshake.
"Oh, you can out-jump and old man," he replied. I was twenty eight years old. Bob, a slim and mostly bald man whose sparkling blue eyes were edged with wrinkles, was sixty-three but appeared to be ten years younger.
"No, trust me, I cannot jump like that"
"You could after you made your last call."
"I'm retiring and divorcing this thing." he said lifting the drug sample bag higher.
"That might cause a man to jump with joy. Congratulations!"
"Yessir and thank you."
We shared nodding smiles with each other before I blurted out the question: "Do you have any advice to share with a young man like myself?"
Bob took in a deep breath as he looked down and then to the side. His eyes quickly filled with tears which then ran down his cheeks. Twice he opened his mouth to speak but stopped when his lips began to tremble. He removed a fresh handkerchief from inside his jacket and used it to dry his eyes and cheeks. Then he exhaled slowly before speaking.
"I own two homes in different states. I own one hundred and fifty acres of land that is adorned with a beautiful forest and a modern cabin. I have a large fishing boat and an even larger yacht. I also own a beach front condominium. They are all paid for, but I have rarely used any of them."
Bob's face distorted and tears came fast again so he paused to gather himself and mop up with the hanky.
"I also have a wife of thirty eight years who says that she doesn't know me. I missed most of the important school and sporting events my two children participated in. I don't know my grandchildren and on the rare occasion that I see them they don't greet me with enthusiasm like they do when they see my wife."
He was sobbing by this point. His shaking arms and hands extended straight down from his slumped shoulders. Then he straightened himself and clasped my shoulder with his free left hand. His eyes, still pouring tears but now fierce and steeled, met mine.
"You want some advice from this old man? Don't chase money because it won't bring you what is important in life. Don't believe that you can measure yourself by what you own because what you own will really own you. Don't devote yourself to your job because if you do the work will consume your days and nights and rob you of what your life could have been. My real advice to you, Shane, is this: Seek and give love. Make your God and your family the number one priority. There you will find happiness. And then, when your material life falls apart over and over, you will still have love. And when you die you will leave behind those worn out objects and love that will last and last. That is advice born from torment and shame. It is all I have for you." ST