Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lessons from fortune

Invited to a fancy corporate soirée in New York City a dozen years ago, not long after separating from my first wife, I was paired with a female companion, a complete stranger. It wasn't a blind date, really, just the merciful act of mutual friends who didn't want to see either of us wandering the social wilderness alone.

The classy divorcée had quite the personal history. As the ex-wife of a well-known corporate baron -- I'm not going to expose him here, but he's done numerous television commercials for the company which bears his name -- she wanted for nothing. "Rich" would be an understatement.

Despite her material wealth, I found this woman personable and refreshingly unpretentious. Over the four hours we spent together I watched her show genuine interest in others, listening more than she spoke. We had a great time, at one point fleeing the Brie-and-Chablis crowd for the relief of a nearby dive serving fat burgers and Rolling Rock in long-neck bottles.

My most vivid memory of that evening is the way that my companion handled herself with partygoers (often drunken ones) who sought to pry into her private life. When conversation revealed that she split her time between homes in San Francisco and Melbourne, for example, she was asked, "Where do you get the money to do that?"

Her reply was simple. "I'm very fortunate."

When pressed, she'd smile and repeat the humble assertion.

"I'm just very fortunate."

Maybe her divorce decree prohibited her from divulging the source of her wealth -- I don't know and it doesn't matter. I mean, court orders haven't stopped others from yakking about taking former spouses to the post-marital cleaners.

No, my sense was (and is) that I was seeing the essence of a remarkable person. I took her lessons.

I gain nothing, ultimately, from vindictive words and deeds. Trying to impress others is little more than puffing hot air into my own ego. Being interested is more productive than being interesting.

I haven't seen this woman since but I'll never forget what she taught me by her example.

I consider myself very fortunate.