Horse and Cart

“Dad, why don’t you shut down the store and just sell stuff online?  You can make more money.”  The young man standing in front of me is a bright and knowledgeable high school student.  He remembers the lean years…the times when I wasn’t sure there was any future at all in selling musical items.  That has been the case for most of his short lifetime.  He also knows computers and the Internet; it is the field in which he intends to spend his life.  And, he is right.  There is money to be made in the fledgeling marketplace.  He has the facts on his side and he has seen the very real results of my efforts over the few months previous to this conversation.  How do I respond?

“Daddy, why we don’t see you at home in the evenings anymore?”  The pretty young lady is sitting at the table as we eat supper, right before I head back to the store to work a few more hours.  It is her last year in high school, for all I know, her last year at home…ever.  I readily admit that I have been spending more time at work than ever before.  It has been just a few months since I discovered the online auction marketplace.  It was a wide open market and I waded in, throwing everything I had into selling online.  It was profitable.  It was also time-consuming.  The young lady certainly has a valid point.  What is to be my response to her question?

Life is short.  Our time with our children is even shorter.  While I would have described the first question, the one from the young man, as a “poser”; the second, from the young lady, seemed to be a “no-brainer”, one which required no thought at all.  My children are probably the most important projects I have ever worked on, if I may use such crass terminology.  With my world-view being influenced heavily by my faith and understanding of the Bible, I have always known that a man’s family is of principal importance.  It’s a responsibility given us by our God.  And, knowing that my family needed me to be there for them made the answer to the girl’s question an easy one.  I told her that I would figure out a different time to do that extra work.  I determined that my schedule after that day, until the day the kids really did leave home, would always include time for them.  My evenings remained free from then on.

I told you that the answer to my daughter’s question was a “no-brainer”.  That said, I have spent more than a few hours in thought about it over the last decade.  The thoughts had nothing to do with lost profit and everything to do with people I love.  Did my decision cost me?  That depends on your definition of “cost”.  There was probably less cash in the bank account; most likely even a disadvantage in building a customer base.  The payoff, though…I won’t ever be able to tally that up.  That’s the way it is with some decisions.  If you’re a plus/minus list maker, with the advantages going in one column and the disadvantages in another, I can’t help you there.  This list says family comes first.  Period.  No plus column, no minus column…just the big picture. 

What about the young man’s question?  You know how I answered that, don’t you?  Well…the music store is still going.  Yes, the Internet plays a big part in our business, but the doors are still open to people. Customers are still walking through the door, the phone is still ringing throughout the day, everyday.  I actually made that decision quickly, as well.  You see, not many of us are blessed with a profession which matches our idea of the perfect job, but this is as close as it gets for me.  I really don’t love counting money, don’t care as much as many do about profit or loss, although my banker has convinced me that the former is to be desired over the latter.  I’m certainly not looking to take over the instrument market from the huge Internet sellers.  I do, however, love being able to talk with the people who walk through that door; to provide them with whatever it is they need.  I don’t mind selling them that thousand dollar instrument if it’s what they need, but I’m also learning to be just fine if they walk out the door with nothing in their hands, as long as we’ve had the chance to serve. 

There is a legacy I want to leave to my children and my grandchildren and yes, even to my customers.  I pray that the legacy is not one of grasping for things, or money, or even public regard.  I want to serve…my family…my customers…my God.  And, even though I don’t claim to have learned how to do this to the exclusion of all things selfish, I am finally realizing that living a life of service is actually the way in which we can be completely fulfilled.  I find myself shuddering every time I hear the words, “First, you have to love yourself…”  A life of service always precedes the knowledge of lasting achievement, not the other way around.  “Me first” has never been the mantra of a successful, well-rounded individual, but it has been the lifelong motto of any number of grasping and selfish individuals who live out their lives in fear and suspicion of (and from) the rest of the world.

For many years, I pulled a trailer behind my truck when delivering pianos.  I was never worried while moving forward with the trailer being towed behind the vehicle.  It always followed just fine.  The worry started when I had to back the whole rig up.  The trailer is not a natural leader (thus the term trail-er), wanting to go first left, then right, and frequently, jackknifing to the side of the vehicle.  This is because of the distance from the front wheels, which determine the direction of the whole contraption.  When the guiding wheels are in the front, with the rest of the apparatus following, a straight line is easy to achieve.  The other way around, problems abound. 

The truck pulling a trailer is what comes to mind as I consider today’s quandary(s).  The truck serves, steadily and surely leading the way for the trailer of personal needs following along behind.  Again and again, through my life, I get the trailer leading the way, with disastrous results every time.  Side to side, and around in circles we go, the goal never coming any closer.  Trailers are made to be pulled behind, not to lead.  Some processes just work better when we get the order of things right.

I’m not sure if it makes my kids too happy now, but it is to be hoped that the real inheritance I leave behind is not a pile of cash, hoarded and guarded selfishly, but a legacy which will last a lot longer and do a lot more good.  Time will tell. 

“You can’t get unless you give.  And you have to give without wanting to get.”
(Theodore H White~ English journalist and historian~1915-1986)

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