Monday, 20 June 2011
Rich Man, Poor Man
Something tragic happened in my street recently.
It's a quiet place, a bit out of the way, with a fairly eclectic mix of characters. Of course most of them are total strangers, others just nodding acquaintances, but some people stand out more than others. For many years we'd noticed a sorry soul - a solitary man, obviously an alcoholic, who shambled up and down to the supermarket to buy his staple six-packs of beer. In such a disheveled state it was hard to guess his age but I'd have put him somewhere between fifty and sixty. Neighbours grumbled occasionally about his aggressive attitude to their children, and on one occasion I saw the police frogmarch him away for some unspecified offence. But mainly he kept to himself; a sad reminder of the flotsam of society.
In the past few months whenever I saw him he seemed older and sicker. Then news came that he'd collapsed one day in the public park. Attempts were made to revive him, but they failed. In the end he was eating virtually nothing so his body had simply given up the ghost.
Tragic as it was, there is a weird twist in the tale. When the authorities came to tackle the job of clearing out his little flat they were astonished to discover a huge amount of cash, rolled up in bundles of notes, secreted all over the place. In all it added up to hundreds of thousands of pounds, an astonishing amount of money given his apparent impoverishment. He could have lived like a rich man, but he lived like the poorest. His money brought him no happiness at all.
Surely this is an object lesson in never judging a book by its cover, or judging a man by his outward appearance. Don't we all feel poor sometimes? And yet hidden inside us we all have riches; perhaps not stashes of cash, but the love we give to ourselves and the world. For me, the saddest part of my neighbour's story is he died alone and friendless, not that he never spent his money. It's the lack of love that makes us poor.