Saturday, October 11, 2008
In our relentless pursuit of an uncertain tomorrow we often trample the blessings of today
Frank listened with horror as the closing bell rang and the Dow tumbled six-hundred fifty seven points again today. His stomach was in knots; the overpowering urge to vomit did not pass quickly. He reminded himself of the foolish thinking; losses had only occurred on paper. As someone who scraped for a lifetime in anticipation of a few good years it felt more like a hatchet buried in his skull.
His financial adviser had been wrong in prematurely predicting the market’s bottom, but in all fairness, so had many others. “You have to ride this thing out, give it some time,” he would say; sage advice for the thirty year old executive with a 401K or parents saving for a toddler’s college fund. For Frank and Maggie Wilhelm, time was the enemy. An impatient visitor had arrived unexpectedly, easily crushing every defense mounted against it. In his heart, Frank knew there would be no negotiations, and little delay. The evil marauder would only depart if he possessed what he came for.
Frank waited for the teller’s return to the window. Apparently a witness was required for such a transaction. A short, rotund man in a white suit accompanied her return. The fluorescent lighting did little to prevent the glare of his polished scalp as he waddled to the counter. The obligatory handshake was nearly as ineffective as his explanation of bank policies. In an effort to make his position crystal clear, Frank grasped the knot of the little man’s tie and drew him close.
“Look, Boss Hog! I’ve just about reached my limit of cartoon-like characters in my life. I’m graciously willing to forego the thanks you owe me, as I’ve allowed you to profit from the use of my money long enough. As your pathetic sign indicates, I am one of your valued customers, and would appreciate your prompt cooperation in retrieving my funds!”
With eyes the size of flapjacks the man muttered under his breath about pre-notification for such large transactions, but nonetheless retrieved a pen and added his signature to the withdrawal paperwork. The bank officer flinched nervously as Frank’s hand reached across the counter again, but this time in an effort to smooth the wrinkles he had created.
“I apologize for the rash behavior. If Mrs. Hog would be so kind as to forward the cleaning bill I’ll gladly compensate you for it.”
Frank shared equal glances between the busy road he traveled and the receipt he gripped in his hand, which reflected an account balance of $0.00. The strangeness of the moment can only be explained as an epiphany. Within arms reach lay what remained of fifty years of obsessive behavior. Every extra penny had been squirreled away, and now precisely for what? For a half-century he had cursed himself for even briefly considering tapping the funds, while precious needs had gone unmet.
Maggie’s eyes were closed as she rested peacefully upon the couch. Frank realized in her weakened state just how valuable a few moments of rest had become. He placed the box gently alongside her and quietly slipped from the room.
For several days following a chemotherapy session, Maggie showed no interest in food, even the smell of such things caused violent reactions; upheavals of epic proportion and duration that were painful even to listen to. For the last several months Frank remained content subsisting on takeout, eaten in the car, or a cold sandwich that created minimal odor.
He tried to remain neutral and supportive in the very personal choice of treatment. Had it been him, he would have allowed nature to take its course, but perhaps that was the easier way out. Maggie wanted to experience each phase of life in its entirety. He recalled her words with admiration; ‘Without raw, excruciating pain how will one realize the value of inner-strength? Dark thunderheads that spawn raging, tumultuous seas would have no purpose except to give a deeper appreciation for the sun that overlooks placid waters and provides warmth to the very core of our souls.’ Maggie’s words were often profound and thought provoking, even to a simplistic man such as Frank.
“What’s the special occasion?” Maggie asked curiously, as she smiled from the doorway.
“Just an extremely belated gift, my dear—open it up.”
Maggie eyes brightened as the wrapping fell to the floor in shreds. She flipped open the velvet case and recognized them instantly. She held them to the light; the pair of marquee cut diamond earrings she had long given up on. She swallowed determinedly against the obstruction forming in her throat.
“But, you always said they were too expens…….”
Frank wrapped his arms around her and with his thumb gently brushed aside a tear.
“Forget everything I’ve said in the past, Maggie. I’ve been a damn fool! Far too long I’ve been a dark cloud in your life, and if it’s not too late, I want to be a ray of sunshine.”
Against her wishes, for more than two weeks Frank showered her with a gift each day, many of which she had forgotten she ever desired. Yet the final presentation, she had waited a lifetime for. Even as young girl dreams of such fantastic places filled her head.
The beauty of Italy and France transcended all expectations. A soothing violin melted the cares of the world from her mind and carried them away on the notes of a sweet melody. Fine Italian wine felt like velvet to her tongue. A simple crescent moon held a particular fascination when viewed from beneath the Eiffel Tower. While marveling at the dome of the Sistine chapel, they foolishly considered Michael Angelo’s possible inspiration for such perfection.
But memories of Vienna, above all other, would stand eternal. As they floated effortlessly down one of the many canals, the dark blanket of night came to life with lunar expression. The orb surrounded itself perfectly with shattered fragments of sparkling brilliance.
Frank took her hand firmly in his, and with renewed conviction repeated his forty-three year old wedding vows; none of the words more meaningful and heartfelt than on this particular night. In an anonymous gondola, with the moon shimmering softly against their silhouettes and souls undeniably entwined as they had been forever, they shared one final passionate kiss.