I learnt one of the most valuable lessons of my life four thousands miles from home, when I was only eleven.
We had been travelling for months, driving around Australia in a little car - just my Mum, my dog and I. My father had left us when I was very young and it had just been the two of us ever since. So when my Mum's long service leave came up she decided that she wanted to get out of town and see the world, we packed up the car and left, driving straight away from home and our boring old lives. At times we wanted to kill each other but we knew that like always we were all we had. This reality began to set in as our finances began to dwindle, we picked oranges in Orange but that still didn't give us enough to get home. We had one lifeline left - the refund from my mum Tax Return. Finally we could no longer afford the cost of fuel, the Tax Refund check was late and our money was tight. Eventually we found ourselves stuck four thousand miles from home in a town called Mackay in Queensland in a little run down old caravan park. The price was cheep and that was all that mattered.
We were alone - on the other side of the country with just enough money to pay for the place to park the car and eat. We kept to ourselves mostly, to a single mother with her eleven year old son and small dog with no money the world looked pretty scary. One hot sunny day as I made my way to see if the pool had been cleaned like the owners promised it would be, it hadn't, an old man living out of an old beat up yellow ute that had appeared overnight smiled and introduced himself. His dog, an old cattle dog, wagged its tail playfully licked my hand. I excused myself, he seemed friendly but you can never tell, and went to tell my Mum about this nice older man. The next day when I went down to the pool my Mum came with me, half to check out the pool and half to check out this old man. Again he introduced himself and soon we got to talking. We formed a quick friendship as his humour and kind manner put us at ease.
Over the next couple of days we went back and chatted to him, my Mum enjoying a cup of tea or coffee while I played with his dog. Eventually the conversation turned to money and how expensive it was to travel. We were shocked as he told us how much it cost him to fill up his ute and I joked that he must be a millionaire. Laughing he replied that he was and then he told us his story.
In a pervious life he had been a rich man, CEO of a minor multinational corporation. He had it all - money, fast cars, money, mansions, more money, boats, and even more money. His wife couldn't have been happier, his kids went to the best schools and where directors and CEO's themselves. But for all his money and all his possessions there was one thing that he didn't have - he wasn't happy. Every time the stocks went down his stress went up, he felt his wife didn't love him just his wallet and he never saw his kids since they were so busy themselves. He couldn't call anyone he knew a friend because they all wanted what he had and would say and do anything to get it. In short he was totally miserable. As his health began to deteriorate he called his family together to tell them of his decision. He was going to leave his job and wanted to travel, not in the lap of luxury but just get on the road and drive. His kids were shocked and his wife stormed right out to get a divorce lawyer. Finally when he had paid her off and liquidated his assets he bought an old yellow ute and taking his faithful dog hit the road just as he dreamed of doing. His health improved straight off and more importantly he loved what he was doing, like the king in Shakespeare’s immortal play he was among the common man again - people who were genuine and honest and often happy as well because they were travelling themselves.
Looking at me he said "Money is only worth what you can do with it, believe me I know." That day I learnt that money means nothing, it is little more than a means to an end. A hundred dollars spent on food for myself will keep my belly full for a week but a hundred dollars spent buying food for a friend in need will keep my heart full for much, much longer.
A few days later the yellow ute disappeared, the old man continued on his journey and so did we. The tax check was enough for us to get home but this time money didn't seem tight, there were always a few spare dollars to spend on buying food for a BBQ at a rest stop with our fellow travellers. Even though since then money has been tight it has never really bothered either of us, we just think back to the man who had everything but gave it all up for what he really wanted.