Nobody has ever completed P90X because we all fail. We don’t wake up early enough to complete the daily exercise and the following day skip the exercise out of personal shame at our previous failure. After a few days of failure we all just give up.
Nobody chooses to be poor. I know this to be true. I know this because I was poor. I knew that if I worked hard enough I could improve my situation. Because I have succeeded I know for a fact that anybody else can succeed. Nobody chooses to be poor. If they remain poor it is because of their failures. They have failed to work hard enough, or failed to work long enough. They don’t choose to be poor but they've remain there because of their failures.
Nobody chooses to be poor because they want to succeed. They work hard enough, they work long enough, to succeed. Through hard work we all overcome failure.
I met a couple on a recent flight across the Atlantic Ocean. United Airlines flight 3482. Man and wife in their mid-70s, they told me this was the first time they had ever left the country. They were heading to Paris. France. Land of romance. It was a lifelong dream of theirs; and a lifetime of savings. A few false starts in savings. A few do-overs. But now they would make it, for their 50th wedding anniversary, to the City of Light.
It was a long flight. We sat together, the three of us, in Row F. I occupied the window seat because I enjoyed watching the clouds roll by beneath the wings. The man - his name was Dick, his personality was bashful - sat beside me. We shared an armrest; the unwritten rules of shared use applied. His wife, Eunice, occupied the aisle seat, muttering something to Dick about having to get up and down so much as they arrived at Row F.
Eunice introduced the couple to me shortly before takeoff, extending her meek hand across the body of her travel-weary husband. “He’s a man of few words,” she said, sharing a knowing look at her betrothed. She told me they were from Arlington, Tennessee, “Just outside of Memphis,” where Dick worked renting temporary fences and she worked part-time for their church. They have three grown children scattered across the country, “Anywhere but Memphis” - one in California, another in Florida and the youngest in Missouri.
Our conversation covered the topics people usually talk about as strangers with several breaks where I stared out the window to spend some time with myself. Dick only offered a few words, filling in details he felt Eunice left out. Where I grew up. How they met. Our plans for Paris. Why Paris.
“We were hoping to spend our honeymoon in Paris,” Eunice said, “but the battery in our car died so we had to put our plans on hold.”
Batteries aren't that expensive, I wondered, how could that derail their big plans?
“We were pretty poor back then,” she answered. “When you’re that poor, a car battery is a big setback.”
And this is when my worldview foundations took a major impact. Not that some people have meager means, but that it took 50 years to come back from something as trivial as a car’s battery. But it was not just that: the somnolent Dick was quickened at this point, as if a slow burning fire in his soul just couldn't be contained anymore. I’m working from memory, so I can only hope I do him justice.
“Listen son,” he started, still looking forward in his tiny airline chair, “many people think they’re poor when they’re not. They’re not poor, they’re young. Young people think the world owes them. They deserve more for their efforts. They can do their boss’s job better than he can. They think they’re poor when they’re really just young.” He turned his head toward me, with bashful eyes straining to catch my own, “You don’t know what poor really is. Poor isn't a temporary situation you find yourself in when you’re trying to work yourself up the ladder. Poor isn't what you are at the beginning of your career. Poor is knowing no matter how hard you work you’re only going to end up poor. Poor is where you were and to whom you were born. Poor is saving every penny you earn only to end up in debt when something happens to you or your family - like a broken leg, or a run down car. Poor is not having the resources to even take advantage of the G.I. Bill. Poor is making decisions between buying food and buying medicine. Poor is living on hope! Hope alone!”
Hope. I used to scoff at the term. Overused. Abused. Hope was a slogan, not the foundations of family life. I think a smirk may have appeared on my face at that word: hope. Dick wasn’t so amused. Dick rubbed his hand back across his bald head as the passion within him increased. His voice rose half an octave.
“I’m sorry if that offends you,” he began, “but it’s the God’s honest truth. Hope is not what gets us through the day; hope is wringing our hands as we check the mail each day waiting for a check to arrive while the funds in the account creep closer and closer to zero. Hope is the agony of your young child home sick from school for three days while you don’t have any way to make up those three days removed from your paycheck at the end of the week. Hope is preparing your résumé while another round of layoffs approach!” Dick’s intensity continues to rise, and it’s me now seeking to avoid eye contact. “Hope is waiting for the test results from the specialist! We’re not hoping for something better, we’re hoping to hold onto what we have! Hope is everything!”
Dick shuffled in his chair a bit, collecting his thoughts. I was prepared for another onslaught. It never came. He settled back down into his chair. Eunice took hold of his arm like a princess at a ball.
In Paris I would run into Dick and Eunice occasionally as they took in the sights. They seemed to genuinely be in love still, after all these years. I couldn't help but think of this trip of theirs as a break from their reality into a dream world. Even at Bastille where so many angry men died in a struggle for for their nation’s hope, this was not only a vacation from their jobs but a realization of their own hope.
I can admit, timidly, that this encounter hasn’t changed the way I live my life, nor how I treat other people on a day-to-day basis, but this flash of lifelong passion from such a humble man does come to my mind time-to-time. When I’m up late at night watching the latest episode of Louis, or in the morning shower where internal conflict is dealt with daily. I may not have the same struggles that Dick or Eunice faced, but if I could live with as much conviction maybe I could one day truly hope.
As it turns out: Eunice finished P90X.