Richest man in the world

Rick Ryckeley's picture

After years of hard work, raising four children and seeing them through college, the gentleman still was able to retire at age 52, a very wealthy man. Unfortunately, for the man who had everything, it wouldn’t be long before his life took a dramatic turn that sent it in a direction he never could imagine – all due to events not of his making. Life often does that.

A year later, gun smoke gray clouds hung heavily over his head as the late afternoon thunderstorm rumbled closer in the distance. It would be the worst storm he had ever been caught in, one for which there would be no safe haven. Soon golf ball-sized hail would pound him, and cold wind gusts of over 50 mph would tear at his clothes, but for now it was the eerie calm before the storm. All was solemn and still at the gravesite.

A single red rose was placed on the ground. It was always a little joke between them – the gentleman and his wife of 33 years. Early on in their marriage, he would often say, “One day, I’ll make enough to buy you a dozen roses!”

The lady had blessed him with a wonderful life and five children. Yes, just a year earlier, he was a rich man, looking forward to retirement and a lifetime spent with his soulmate. Now, as he turned to walk away, he was a poor man. He had lost the most valuable thing of all forever: the only woman he ever truly loved.

The storm hit in all its fury before he reached his vehicle; it pounded his body, but he didn’t care. He was already numb. That day had changed the gentleman forever – he would never be the same again. A large part of him, the best part of him, was left under that rose.

Within a month, he moved away. He moved away from his four grown children. He moved away from a lifetime of memories — too painful to remember, yet too painful to forget.

The gentleman has now lived another 30 years, taking care of their four children, giving advice when asked, money when needed, but most importantly, he has given his love and the understanding that only comes with the passage of time.

Thirty years — a lifetime for some, but if asked, as those gunsmoke storm clouds form behind his eyes and his once strong body slumps against the fierce wind raging in his soul, he will answer that his life really ended that afternoon some 30 years ago.

I make it a point to phone him everyday – not just on Father’s Day. It’s the least I can do. After all, without him, I wouldn’t be here. The gentleman has taught me much about life, and I’ve tried to pass the knowledge on to my son. Still, at 52, I have much to learn.

Tonight I find myself alone again. It has been 10 days since The Wife left on her business trip. Tonight, after balancing the checkbook, I feel we will never survive this economic storm. At 52, the gentleman retired a rich man. At 52, it looks like I will be working another 10 years.

In the morning, I’ll clean the house, finish the laundry and await The Wife’s return. All will be right with the world.

Cutting off the computer, I suddenly feel ashamed. I remember something that gentleman said to his children as he climbed back into the car that stormy day so many years ago. “If you have your health, your children, and the one you love, you are wealthy beyond measure.”

On this Father’s Day, I still have all three. I’m truly the richest man in the world.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is saferick@bellsouth.net.]

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