Rich in relationships

I read a story on the BBC News website about an antique hunter who bought a small rice bowl at a yard sale in Connecticut for $35. The buyer, who was not identified in the article, took the bowl to a professional for an expert evaluation. The six-inch bowl was estimated to have a value between $300,000 and $500,000. It will be auctioned by Sotheby’s Auction House on March 17. The listing describes the bowl as exceptional and rare, one of only seven such bowls in existence. Most of the others are in museums.

The buyer is going to have a lot to report at income tax time.

I don’t identify much with the buyer who is in the process of making a fortune from an astute purchase. I won’t ever be such a buyer. I don’t buy much at yard sales. I don’t attend many yard sales. I do, occasionally, walk through church rummage sales, but those sales have been suspended in the season of pandemic, and it isn’t clear how soon they can be resumed. I might be attracted to a rice bowl. We like to have rice dishes and eat from our rice bowls at least once a week. But I can almost guarantee that I wouldn’t spend $35 on a rice bowl, no matter how pretty. Our rice bowls were purchased for 100 yen (a bit less than $1) at Dyso, a Japanese version of a dollar store. I once considered paying $5 per rice bowl from Amazon, but talked myself out of the purchase, which was a good thing because our daughter gave us rice bowls for Christmas the last year she lived in Japan. I didn’t ask her, but I hope she got the ones for our gift from Dyso.

So don’t expect to read a story about me making a rare antique find and a huge profit at a garage sale. It isn’t going to happen.

I do, however, completely identify with whoever sold the rice bowl for $35 at the sale. I have gotten rid of a lot of things that have been around our house for very low prices. More likely, I would have put the bowl into a box for Good Will or donation to another charity. I really don’t like garage sales and though we’ve had a couple in our nearly 5 decades of marriage, neither of us is inclined to do that very often.

One of my favorite songs of the musical Fiddler on the Roof is “If I Were a Rich Man,” sung by Tevye. The intro is spoken: “O Lord, you made many, many poor people. I realize, of course, that it’s no shame to be poor, but it’s no great honor either! So, what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune?” After singing about all of his fantasies about being rich, the song has a striking outro: “Lord who made the lion and the lamb, You decreed I should be what I am. Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if I were a wealthy man?”

The answer to Tevye’s rhetorical question is, of course, “Yes.” Indeed it would spoil some vast eternal plan if I were a wealthy man. Some of us are simply happier in life knowing that we aren’t fabulously wealthy. I have no desire to be Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Mark Zuckerberg. I’m perfectly happy being myself. Sometimes I wish I had made some more astute decisions earlier in my life. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t wasted money on some of the frivolous purchases I’ve made. But I have no designs on being rich.

Having said that, I realize that I am fabulously wealthy compared to the character in the musical. I’m fabulously wealthy compared to a lot of people in the world. My life has been filled with luxuries, not the least of which is comfortable housing, convenient transportation and the luxury of frequent travel. I don’t worry about food insecurity. We have a well-stocked pantry and are able to make at least one trip each week to the grocery store. In fact, with the rate we go through milk with the visit of our grandson, I’ve been going a couple of times each week. And I don’t just buy milk when I go.

I suppose that my retirement might feel a little more secure and the shopping for a new home might be a bit easier had I discovered a rare antique worth $300,000 - $500,000 amongst our possessions. However, I’m not going to lose any sleep looking for such a treasure. I’m pretty sure that the antiques we kept have value that is mostly sentimental and the ones we gave away have value for others. I don’t expect for anyone to find a valuable treasure among my possessions. Of course the person who sold the rare 15th-Century Ming Dynasty bowl for $35 didn’t expect to have anything for the garage sale that was worth $300,000 to $500,000 either.

In my fantasy, I’m more likely to imagine that I can sing as well as Chaim Topol, who played Tevye on Broadway, or make my trumpet sing like Brandon Ridenour. If you haven’t heard it yet, check out his YouTube recording of Rhapsody in Blue. It will change your perception of what a trumpet can do. That is his father accompanying him in the video. I’d settle for being able to play the piano like him.

I don’t, however, believe in magic. I don’t expect to suddenly have wealth or talent that I don’t have. I get a fair amount of joy from witnessing the talent of others. I’ve invested a fair amount of time and energy over the years encouraging others to experience the joys of giving and I think I’ve succeeded a few times in helping people to make wise charitable giving decisions. I’ve witnessed those who have found joy in wealth and I don’t want to take any of their joy from them.

But I prefer to be rich in marriage, in family, in grandchildren, in friends and faith. It is more than enough for me.