For of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: What might have been!
- John Greenleaf Whittier
Forbes magazine recently came out with its annual list of really rich folks.
Don't bother looking - you're not on it.
In fact, other than Ted Turner, the Georgia list includes mostly anonymous types who had the good fortune to either inherit Coca-Cola stock or invent The Home Depot.
The rest of us are left to ponder what it must be like to live a life of luxury.
You know, butlers and mansions. Sports cars and private jets.
It's a wonderful fantasy - the American dream, really, and raises a question we all might answer: What sort of rich person would we become?
My friends and I used to talk about it all the time.
In my youth, it was a common subject for late-night debates.
I think we all came to the conclusion we would be great rich guys. Deserving rich guys. Considerate rich guys.
You might even say I once had my chance.
About 15 years ago, the newspaper that employed me at the time was purchased by a mighty media conglomerate.
For strategic reasons, this company figured it needed to keep everyone happy, so one day soon afterward, I was summoned into an inner sanctum where my boss, his boss and a pin-striped corporate-type were all sitting around with little smirks on their faces.
"Bill," one of them said, "we'd like to double your salary."
I showed the good manners not to argue. The paperwork was hastily signed, and I left the room a wealthy man.
Looking back, it wasn't that much money, but it didn't matter. Suddenly, my prospects had doubled. I was a man of means by all means.
I set about doing the things I assumed rich guys do.
I wrote my church a check. My father had taught me long ago that a Lord who giveth could taketh away.
Then I wrote checks to assorted local charities.
I even slipped a couple of hundred bucks to the Boy Scouts despite the fact I had been removed from their rolls years before because my youthful temper prompted too many fistfights.
Then I began to look after my family. I bought each of my nephews expensive toys. I bought my folks assorted goodies, and I bought myself a VCR.
Gradually, it began to dawn on me that what I thought was a lot of money really wasn't.
I didn't make any new rich friends, and I discovered that unless you're really, really old, Playmates of the Year don't ring your doorbell with marriage proposals.
Within a few months I noticed the money got spent just as fast as it had before, but that was OK.
Now I knew that at one point in my life, for one fleeting moment, I had believed myself honestly and truly rich.
When I did, I thought I showed that I handled my circumstances well.
And if fate wants to try me again, well ... good manners have taught me not to argue.
Reach Bill Kirby at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 107.
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