Some years ago I was the Branch Manager of a Utility Company supplying electrical power and heating steam to Los Alamos National Lab. I was living the life that, in many ways, now passes for the American Dream. I had a generous salary, a reasonably prestigious position, two homes, two almost new cars, and a beautiful wife. Sure, it was often stressful and I was beginning to have some heart problems, but that is to be expected, isn’t it? -- it is the price you pay and I was happy enough to pay it.
One day, some of my workers happened upon an unsafe working condition. After some research by one of my engineers and against the advice of my closest friend at LANL, who warned me against "making waves", I wrote a short e-mail to my bosses which changed my life (and that of the engineer). It chronicled what we had found along with my concern that this unsafe condition may have existed undetected for several years (I had been at LANL for less than one year). To make a long story short, both the young engineer and I were immediately fired.
So much for the American Dream. Now I had two mortgages, two car payments, and no job. I laid around feeling sorry for myself for about a week and then left for Wichita, Kansas to try to help flood victims in a disaster relief operation as Mass Care Chief for the American Red Cross. Over the next few years I learned of the magnificent beauty, vibrance and complexity of a life which was far different, and far more compelling, than the one I had carefully crafted for myself. I re-learned, literally, what I had allowed myself to forget. I grew stronger and I grew younger. My heart condition disappeared. So did one of the houses. The cars got older. Maria grew more beautiful.
I travel now. I write sometimes and photograph often. I do charitable work. I look for opportunities to be kind. I try to remember that our lives are not measured by "toys and dollars"; that we are so much more than what we allow ourselves to be. We are put on this world to learn, to love, and to laugh, not necessarily in that order. I was not smart enough to realize this on my own. The angels must certainly be protecting me, as they protect all fools. But I hope I am not so much of a fool as to forget it. In the end, it is better to be blessed than brilliant.
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