Secrets from Strangers
One of the hardest lessons to learn in life is the value of money. Some would argue that money is the root of all evil. Others believe money buys happiness solves all of life’s problems. I can’t claim to have some profound answer, but what I do have is experience on both ends of the financial spectrum. I was raised in a household where money was never an issue. As I mentioned in Reflections from the Man in the Mirror, some of my biggest problems as a child were if I got dropped off at school in my father’s Porsche or mom’s SUV. I never worried about where my next meal came from and I had everything I could ever need or want (or so I thought). On the contrary, 20 years into that lifestyle I made a drastic change. I made a choice to leave all of that behind to follow my heart and to enlist in the United States Army. Up until the day I left for the military, I squandered every opportunity my parents had provided for me, most of which involved money. The value of money meant nothing to me because it wasn’t mine to value.
Regardless of my overwhelming desire to join, the day I swore into the military I was terrified for the inevitably drastic change in lifestyles. As we waited for our families to arrive, I sat in my chair and reflected on one of my most valued lessons my father taught me. He told my brothers and I that, “I will support you in anything you do, if you do it for the right reasons. If you live your life to make a difference in the lives of others and pour passion into everything you do, you will always have my full support.” His most famous line to my brothers and I was, “I will support you if you decide to sell fruit on the corner of the street, as long as you are happy and make others happy.” He followed that by saying, “great things happen to great people.” For years, I never understood how a man who made such an outstanding living for himself and my family could do that with such a simple philosophy. How could he be so financially successful without focusing on making money? He told me, “If you live your life to chase money you will never be truly happy. Life your life to be happy and the money will come.”
For the three and a half years I poured my heart and soul into being a soldier. I learned the value of money the hard way. I went from eating like a king at home with my family to rationing government issued ten year old pressured sealed bags of food called MRE’s to last me days at a time. I went from living in a mansion to sleeping in old Nazi barracks in Germany also known as, the crack house. I spent months on end sleeping in the woods of Eastern Europe and somehow those were some of the best moments of my life. How could that be? If money bought happiness, why was I so happy living with nothing? That answer took me a long time to find. Surprisingly enough, my father was not that man who gave me that answer, but it did provide me with the foundation to interpret the answer I received. He was even the reason I met the man who gave me the answer I sought. The man who truly opened my eyes was yet another stranger I met after I returned home.
Without question, my father lived his life for the benefit of others and that was reflected tenfold on the day he was inducted into the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) Hall of Fame. During my father’s speech he had disclosed to our CYO family that he was diagnosed with ALS. Almost immediately after his diagnosis, we created the Andrew J. Natale Family Foundation with its sole purpose being to provide opportunities for young men to continue the faith journey through Catholic education and athletics. My father had self-funded this foundation for its launch and we began campaigning for donations to ensure it would continue to benefit these young men for, God willing, decades to follow. Well, let me ask you a question. Would you believe me if told you the man that gave me the answer I was looking for was a man that handed me 16 dollars for my father’s foundation after the ceremony?
To this very day, I wish I asked that man his name. He changed the way I viewed the world. He confirmed a lesson that my father had taught me through my entire life which is that, “it’s not about what’s in your wallet that defines you; it’s what’s in your heart.” The sincerity that filled this man was amazing. The amount he gave me, 16 dollars, was such an obscure amount that my first reaction was to wonder if this was everything he had in his wallet. In fact, he confirmed it was. He told me, “This is all I have but I want you to have it.” To be honest, it took my breath away. Not because the money he donated would skyrocket the foundations working capital but because he has offered us, complete strangers, “everything he had”.
Money means more to some people than to others, but in my opinion it’s worthless without people to share it with. I have no idea what that man would have used that money for if he hadn’t given it to me, but I am sure grateful he did. I didn’t realize the value of money until it was mine to value. This man showed me that it’s not about how much you have but what you do with it that counts. And that doesn’t go for just money, that applies to the love that’s in your heart. Live to make a difference in the lives of others through whatever means you have access to. Again, nobody remembers the bills you paid for them, they remember how you made them feel. That man made my family feel more special than I could ever describe because he offered us, complete strangers, everything he had.
“It’s not what you have in wallet that defines you; it’s what’s in your heart.”
Timothy A. Natale
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