all of the selves we Have ever been
I knew them both.
A few short miles separated their houses.
A greater distance separated their lives.
He had everything, it seemed. She had nothing.
Their ages differed by more than fifty years. He had passed the age of ninety. She was barely thirty-five.
A wide gulf separated their achievements. He was a decorated soldier, a retired corporate executive, and a practicing lay minister. She worked in a hotel, making beds and scrubbing toilets.
He created a family that spanned many generations, and he had lived to see the children of his great-grandchildren. She would not live to see her only child go off to kindergarten.
His stately home was built of brick and sat beaming on a cul-de-sac in an old, established neighborhood. A yard sign advertised his house on the Holiday Tour of Homes. In the garage, a boat kept company with a luxury automobile. His home was paid for. He had money in the bank and two hefty pensions. He lived each day surrounded by tasteful furnishings and expensive collectibles.
She lived in a modest tract home in a low-rent neighborhood where broken-down vehicles lined the streets. A security camera on the house next door blinked the steady reminder of a break-in. Her small Ford was parked in the driveway, but it really belonged to the bank, not to her. She had no savings. Bill collectors called. She hoped to receive a disability check. Holes from a man’s fist, holes from her head accented the walls.
He had the pleasure of a marriage that lasted more than fifty years. He said his wife was his closest friend. She awaited the arrival of a divorce decree. She said she still loved the man who put the holes in the walls.
Despite his training and ministry to others, he believed that God was a son-of-a-bitch with a bad sense of humor. She had no religious instruction but hoped that God was kind and watching over her.
He had many well-educated and capable adult children who tried to care for him, but he chased them away with his irascible disposition. With grace and patience, she allowed a mentally ill mother and a drug-addicted sister to care for her, to rise above their means and their own problems, to be better and braver than they might otherwise be.
He greeted every day with contempt and hostility. He behaved so badly that a sigh of relief was offered to heaven when he passed suddenly and alone. She was surprised and grateful to open her eyes each day. She was showered with attention, tender care, and kisses. Heaven’s gate opened wide to a woman loved.
Appearances can be deceiving. He that dies with the most toys is not always the winner. In the end, when both had died just days apart, she was the one who had everything.
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