American Dream Driven By Drive

“It is a lot harder than I expected.”

I’m riding in a small black Honda along well-lit streets of a large city. The Uber driver is young, polite, and borderline shy. The car is clean and well kept.

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She is in her early twenties, born in Saudi Arabia, and relocated from South Africa with her mother a few years ago.

I ask her about her thoughts of living in America and how it compares to what she expected.

“When I first arrived, everything was so beautiful, clean, and exciting. There is everything in America,” she said. “But then I found out how much it costs to live here and you have to work hard all the time.”

She tells me she is in school to be a radiologist and drives when she is not studying or in class. She and her mother came to the US together. Soon afterwards, her mother became ill and passed. The bright light in both her voice and eyes dims. I ask about her car, hoping to bring her back.

“I was a waitress for 2-years and saved all my tip money – cash money. Each night I’d come home and careful stack the dollar bills with the others until I had enough to buy this car,” she said. The spark, reignited by pride, returns to her voice and eyes.

She tells me about how a friend took her to a local auto auction.

“Guess how much I paid for this car,” she said. She is proud.

I toss out a number.

“Ten thousand,” I said.

She looks over, flashes a full, prideful smile.

“No, only $7,000.”

She is beautiful from the inside out – her spirit and commitment to make a life for herself in her adopted homeland. She tells me about how hard her studies are and I remind her they are supposed to be.

“If you’re my radiologist I want you to get it right,” I said.

She tells me of how she has traveled to California – her accent making the word melodic and magical.

“San Francisco is beautiful,” she said. “I want to one day live there.”

She can’t be much older than my 23-year old daughter, but she is in a different world – one where she lives without the safety net of parents in the background. Each decision carriers the potential for making a broader life change, each action she makes potentially leading to a dramatic change in her delicate ecosystem, her schooling, and future. I can’t help but admire her for her maturity.

As we drive she is even-tempered, never barking at other drivers, and exceedingly polite. To her, inside her car is an extension of who she is – and how she wishes for the world surrounding her to be.

We pull up to the curb and I exit the car. I wish her well on her studies and her dreams of California. As the car pulls away I know, eventually, she will find her way west and the American Dream.

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Learning To Get Over It Important

“Sometimes you just got to let it go and move on,” said the woman.

I’m standing in parlor of an old wooden hotel along the Atlantic coastline. While the building itself has experienced countless lessons, the woman is telling me about she and her husband’s long marriage – 54 years best she can recall.

“When you are young you waste a lot of time being angry,” she said. “One of you hurts the other or someone upsets the other. But then one day you realize you’re both in it for the long haul and neither one is going anywhere. Might as well get over it and move on.”

She’s dressed in a white lace dress, her husband in a matching white dinner jacket. Palm trees are outnumbered by oak trees with spiraling arms. Outside, Spanish moss gently drapes from branches, moving slowing, like the woman’s accent.

There are wonderful lessons out there for the picking if we’ll only slow down and listen.

Her husband is successful man. Probably works too much, drives too hard, and at times gets preoccupied with the family business. But they are solid and adore each other. Neither one was going anywhere. To them, they were there to build a family and life together.

Marriage and relationships can be difficult. Two people who are strong, confident, and individuals are sure to butt heads or disagree on lots of things. But the strongest relationships, I’m hearing from long-termers is they all seem to carry a powerful element of respect and admiration for the other.

She holds up her hands, palms out, and slowly brings them together until they overlap.

“We don’t always have the same opinions or interests,” she said. “But we each bring something new to the relationship.”

She looks over at her husband and he back at her. Unspoken words with a meaning only they will know are transferred between them. They both smile and return to their conversations.

I think about her words, her lessons, and how long-term couples tend to arrive on the same notes in  life: mutual respect, honesty, and the commitment. Mix in passion – a must – and you begin to wish everyone carried this roadmap in the beginning.

But then again the journey is an integral part of arriving at 54 years of marriage.

My wife and I, like most people, have been on this road. We’ve been broke, built a family, not understood the other, and ridden over some rugged potholes we thought we might not survive. But, thank God – literally, we did. And it is the looking back and recognizing we are on the same road the lady in the white dress that is so encouraging. We are proud to have survived and are much closer because of the shared experience.

Someone comes along to visit the woman in the white lace dress. She smiles and we excuse ourselves from the conversation. But her words, and reminders, will be with us forever as we know we still have some road ahead of us.

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Piano Plays Memories Forever

Sometimes the most valuable physical objects in our lives are worth the least when measured in dollars and cents by the outside world.

“It was my mother’s piano,” said my friend.

She was describing an old upright piano she had recently moved into their newly constructed home.

“It originally started out life as a player piano and was converted to a regular piano afterwards.”

This limited description alone, if heard by an outsider, could never accurately identify the deep and valuable emotions embedded into this piece of furniture.

“My mother died when I was 2 years old,” she said.

Suddenly, with a handful of words, the value to piano leaps from an interesting and potential collector’s item to one you could never offer her enough money to equate to the value in her heart.

Life seems to break people into two camps – one influenced by commercial values and the other by powerful emotions hidden out of sight in small number of objects. The former’s value might be what the perceived selling price might project. The latter quietly sits inside someone’s heart paying precious dividends with each encounter.

Another friend recently shared with me about an old watch he was considering having reconditioned. My friend can buy any watch he wants, but this one is different. Decades old, the watch keeps decent time, is not flashy, and reminds him of moments in life he never wants to lose.

“I remember once in the Army we were marching in the dark through water – my hand on the back of the guy ahead of me – and the band gave way and the watch dropped into the murky water,” he said.

He said he reached down into the abyss feeling around in the mud and somehow up came up with the watch. He then told me about the same watch almost disappearing during a paratroop jump, hanging on by a single Velcro thread when he happened to look down at the right moment.

Again, the watch – as a tool to tell time – is replaceable. A watch that can roll back time is priceless.

We all have these in our lives. I keep an old skateboard in my home office that instantly takes me back to the day it arrived in the mail – all the way from California. I’d been skating for a while and saved up to buy a competition-level board. Opening the brown cardboard box with my mom, I placed my nose against the edges as in hopes of somehow capturing a whiff of the mystical air of southern California.

Every time – without fail – I think of that moment I shared in the kitchen with my mom at the age of twelve years old.

My friend says the piano will always be with her. After she is gone, however, she said she does not care what happens to it. That alone underscores her heart and motivations – the value in not locked in the physical but rather the purity that resides deep in her heart.

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