Robert sat at the table alone and up to his neck in self pity with the thought in his head that, "Life sucks!" Life was beating Rob to a pulp with its boredom.
The waitress set a cup of coffee in front of him asking, "Can I get you anything else, sir?"
Rob answered with a silent negative nod while staring straight ahead into nothingness.
At the same moment, across town, Richie sat at a coffee shop table up to his neck in pity for the waitress whose husband had run off leaving her with three children to support on her meager salary at the coffee shop. He felt embarrassed and compelled to apologize because his life was so great in every aspect compared to her life.
Let me tell you a little something about these two individuals. Robert was born into a wealthy and prominent family. I suppose you might say, he had life served to him on a silver platter. He never knew a want for money or any of life's necessities. After graduation from an Ivy League college, his father gave him a high position in one of his many companies. The job came with a big title, enormous office, and a personal secretary. His usual quip to that secretary upon his arrival in the morning was something along these lines, "Yeah, yeah, good morning. This sucks. I'd rather be back home in bed."
Now, Richie Boudreau, son of Willie and Cynthia Boudreau, was born into a lower middle class black family. Finances were a constant struggle for his parents, but love was in abundance. At six, Richie lost both legs after a horrible car accident. His parents never let him feel sorry for himself. They told him the Lord does everything for a good reason. They drilled into his head that this seeming disability would become a blessing to him and others if he developed the right attitude...and he did.
The husband of the couple that lived in the apartment across the hall from Richie told this story: "Occasionally, Richie and I walk out the door for work at the same time. On this particular day, it was raining cats and dogs. I was not a happy camper. I had to walk in the rain to my car and then across the parking lot into my office. This was going to be a wet miserable day for me. Richie opens the door of his place with that usual big smile of his and clomping side to side on those artificial legs sayin', 'Isn't God's rain beautiful? It restores the world and makes it shine! Don't it make you feel so alive?' By the way, Richie works outside. I looked at him with his handicap and the job outside in this rain thinking, I have no reason to be in a sour mood with all my blessings. Every time my wife and I see him, he inspires us."
Who has the true wealth? Is Robert's life trash and shallow? I caution you on making a decision before hearing the rest of the story.
Robert Redmond had the best education money could buy. His mother and father, Lydia and Max Redmond, wanted to add to that money-bought education a real life education. Well aware of his arrogant and entitled attitude, the two of them put their heads together developing a plan to achieve that end.
Lydia and Max Redmond were born into modest circumstances. The high society scene was never on their agenda. Neither had difficulty making friends, but cared little for the superficial relationships needed to climb the social ladder. How their son acquired his arrogance is not the story...it's how he lost it.
Max loved golf as an instrument to escape the constant phone calls and people tugging at his coattails. There were numerous stories floating around the gossip mill of people spotting him under a tree alongside the fairway sound asleep. Max winks, but never denies the stories. The game matters little to him. Golf is merely an escape mechanism.
Intelligence and sincerity mixed with the man being comfortable with who he is are the qualities his true friends say made him a success. However, that description leaves out the quality that any successful self-made man must possess...cunning. Max had a large reserve of this quality, and planned to use it to put the finishing touch on Robert's education.
It was a beautiful, sunny Monday morning in June that Richie bounced into his small office at the golf course with those stiff artificial legs he called his blessings and that headlight smile that lit up life's road before him. Surprisingly, his office was empty. A guest should have been seated here awaiting his arrival. Robert Redmond was nowhere to be found inside or outside the office. Richie wasn't as surprised as he put on. Mr. Redmond had supplied a full dossier on his son.
At ten o'clock, two hours late, Robert's BMW Z4 roared down the narrow road that wound through the trees to the maintenance building where Richie, the Greenskeeper, had his office. The two workers loading fertilizer onto a trailer stopped and stared in awe at the sports car. The man that exited drew additional attention. His hair was coifed in the latest style. Eyes were covered extravagantly in custom sunglasses. The man sported what one worker commented was, "...one of those high-dollar Italian custom-job suits with shoes to match. 007 in person."
Robert entered the large maintenance building. Richie had a large picture window in front of his desk and saw Robert walk through the overhead door.
Clomping out the door stiff-legged to greet Robert, Richie let out a, "Well, hello! You must be Robert. I'm Richie Boudreau."
Robert stopped and, removing his sunglasses, looked at Richie starting at his legs and working upward. "Yeah, I'm Robert Redmond. My dad asked me if I would take a tour of the place to get to know the business on a low level basis."
Richie smiled a non-surprised kind of smile. "You bet, Robert. Now, hope you brought some work clothes, because, while you are touring the place, you're also going to be working and getting mighty dirty."
The two workers loading fertilizer were enjoying the scene before them. They could not believe Richie was so smooth in handling Mr. Redmond's son that presented such a conflicting image when compared to the old man. Unbeknownst to his son, Max Redmond was an extremely popular and respected man among the grounds crew as well as Richie. They chuckled with their hands over their mouths as Robert emerged from the bathroom wearing an old set of hand-me-down coveralls, kept around for emergencies, and an angry look on his face, a look he would keep for several days.
Robert's summer work-life would be at the course per his father's strict do-it-or-lose-your-job orders. He wanted his son to learn the business from bottom to top. Max considered Richie the best man for that job. He and Richie were good friends; just another fact Robert was ignorant of. Max knew Richie's big personality would win in a collision with his son. He had experienced the extreme pleasure of witnessing Richie transform a tycoon in a drunken rage into a whimpering baby asking for forgiveness and a second chance on multiple occasions. Those stories by themselves were enough to turn him into a legend among the membership. He was humble and powerful at the same time.
Richie came out of his office upon seeing Robert exit the bathroom. "Stan, show Robert the ropes of pushing a fertilizer spreader over a few acres. Robert, you look much better in those overalls. We don't want the patrons thinking we are overpaying the hired hands."
The week passed with many confrontations between Richie and Robert over Robert's slack performance of his assigned duties. Robert's arrogance ran up against Richie's bull-like perseverance time after time. For Richie, this was no contest compared to learning to walk on artificial legs and trying to override his father's demands of perfection walking with those legs while he begged to quit. Every time he fell, his father made him stand up without help. Inside, this had hurt his father, but he knew it would aid in preparing him for a future on his own.
At quitting time on Friday, Richie took Robert aside. "I'll pick you up at seven o'clock in the morning. I'm gonna take you fishing."
"I do not fish. Furthermore, I do not work Saturdays much less get up before noon."
"I do, and, according to your dad, so will you. I'll be there at seven." He walked off leaving an angered Robert standing by himself.
Bam, bam, bam, the door sounded like it was being hit with a hammer. Robert rushed to the front door of his posh high-rise-bachelor pad in a sleepy-eyed daze. He opened the door to see the unwelcome sunshine smile on Richie's face.
"Up and at 'em. We're burnin' daylight. Let's go! We've got things to do, places to go, and people to see. Let's go!"
I'll leave out Robert's expletives and refusals and just tell you he was in Richie's old van within ten minutes of that point in time.
Leaning with sleep filled eyes against the window of the van, Robert complained, "Where are we going in this old rattle trap van at this ungodly hour of the morning? You're taking this boss thing way beyond the job boundaries. My father will hear about this and you'll be looking for work."
"Robert, we are on our way to pick up some of the greatest kids you'll ever meet. They will melt your heart and change your life totally. And...they love to fish, my friend. We do this just about every Saturday morning in the summer. It's time you thought about someone besides number one."
"I don't fish now...never have in the past...and never will in the future!"
"Well, sir, this is the last time you will be able to say that and be accurate."
They pulled up in front of the church to twelve rowdy children and their parents. The children were very special. They all had what is referred to as Down Syndrome. These children loved Richie and his special artificial legs. In fact, they loved everyone and everything...although, Robert would put that fact to the test. But he never had a chance.
Robert didn't have time to complain about anything once he slid down out of the van. The kids attacked him with questions, hugs, and screams of excitement.
In the aftermath of the chaotic boarding of all the children and buckling them into their seats, Richie looked for Robert. He spotted him in the very back of the van next to a boy that had a headlock on him while he screamed in his ear. Richie thought Robert had a look of terror on his face, but that would change when he got to know them. Till then, Robert's life would be just slightly different. Richie jumped into the driver's seat and sped off.
Above the thunderous roar of the children, Richie began to make out what sounded like a plea for help, and it sounded like Robert. Looking into the rear view mirror, he yelled, "You say something, Robert?"
"Yes, I absolutely must have a cup of Starbuck's coffee or I will not make it. Please, Richie, all kidding aside, I really need it."
"Sure, man, I'll stop up on Sheridan. There's a Starbucks there. You're lookin' a little strung out. You gonna make it?"
The old van pulled into a parking spot at the busy Starbucks. Richie turned and asked the kids, "Who all wants to go into Starbucks and get coffee? Mr Robert wants to buy everyone a big cup of coffee!"
The van erupted like a volcano as the kids began throwing the seatbelts to the side and jumping up and down on the seats and attacking Robert with hugs and screams.
Robert let out a muffled, "You're not gonna buy all these crazy kids coffee?"
"Nope...like I said...you are. Let's go guys."
By the time the gang blew out of the van at the lake, Robert had been half scalded to death by his own coffee and his clothes stained by the kid's iced lattes that they seemed to take great joy in pouring on him in lieu of drinking. He was too exhausted to complain anymore. He just climbed down from the van and let the kids drag him along. While unloading the fishing poles from the top of the van, Richie viewed the sight with a satisfied and slightly morbid delight. He was also taking pictures with his phone and forwarding them to a person known only to himself.
After distributing the poles and getting all the hooks wormed-up, Richie turned to Robert saying, "Man, you have got to grow up. Buying that coffee for all the kids just wired them up. you can't give kids coffee. The guy that usually comes with me on these outings has me go to the McDonald's drive thru and he buys everyone a kid's meal that we eat at those picnic tables over there. It's really orderly, and they love those Happy Meal breakfasts."
"I appreciate you volunteering to take his place when he couldn't make it today, but you gotta act like an adult around kids or they'll take advantage of you. You gotta show some maturity, my man."
"But I didn't..."
"Yeah, the other dude is really cool and the kids love him."
Richie walked away at that point to help the kids rebait their hooks and to give praise to the one that caught a small fish leaving Robert shaking his head.
Monday morning, Richie's van rolled slowly down the road to the maintenance building as he did his usual morning inspection of the course. He hadn't traveled far before he brought the van to a sudden halt. He put it in reverse and backed up. There was Robert trimming hedges along the road. Richie checked his watch. Absolutely, no mistaking it. It was six thirty and Robert was already at it. He put the van in park and stepped out walking over to Robert.
"I thought I was seeing things. Robert, are you ok?"
Robert didn't look up. He just kept running the electric hedge clippers over the hedges while he spoke, "I figure the quicker I obey your tyrannical demands, the quicker I'm outa here."
Richie's smile grew even larger with that remark. "It's not just obeying. It's putting a little heart into the job. Look at the mess you've made of this beautiful hedge. Would you hire someone that did slovenly work like this? Put the trimmers down and walk over here with me."
Robert complied in a what-now way.
When Robert stood in front of him, Richie said, "You see that sign over there?"
"On the count of three, I'm gonna race you to that sign."
"Robert looked down at Richie's stiff legs then up to his face remarking with a laugh, "I was a sprinter in college. There's no way you're gonna beat me."
Robert won decisively with a haughty attitude. Richie clomped and hobbled slowly but determinedly the entire distance till he finished.
Breathing heavily, Richie turned to Robert with an unusually serious look on his face saying, "I knew that I couldn't beat you, Robert, but, the point is, I gave it my best effort. My father taught me that whatever I do, give it my best effort, and I will never have to be ashamed. Don't you see...you don't have to finish first to be a winner." With that said, Richie walked off leaving Robert, surprisingly, hanging his head.
At the end of the work day, Robert walked into Richie's office and sat down beside his desk. "Richie, I owe you an apology for this morning."
"No, sir, you owe your mom and dad that apology for embarrassing them. they really love you and want so badly to be proud of you, but you act like a brainless idiot with no sign of ever being anything but a self-serving slug. You're mom and dad gave you all the tools needed to make you a good person and a success. Instead, you spit in their face with your me, me, me attitude and embarrass them. If you feel a need to apologize to someone, apologize to them."
Robert stood slowly with a look of shock from the realization that everything Richie said was true. He walked out without another word from either of them.
Saturday morning, Richie pulled into the church parking lot to an astonishing sight. Robert was standing in the middle of the parents and the kids talking and laughing with them. He pulled the van to a stop at the usual location and hopped out. Robert immediately began loading the kids and buckling them in.
Wearing that trademark smile, Richie walked up to Robert lightheartedly asking, "I didn't expect to ever see you here again. We stopping at Starbucks this morning?"
Robert stopped what he was doing and answered, "No, I think the McDonalds drive thru would be the better choice."
The kids were loaded in a much improved manner. The van rolled away with the usual waves and shouts of goodbye. Robert sat next to Richie in front this time. He looked at Richie saying in a serious yet gentle tone, "Why didn't you tell me Dad was the one that usually accompanies you on these trips?"
"You never asked. All you thought about last Saturday was your precious sleep and your coffee. Did he tell you?"
"Mom did. I can't believe I never knew he was doing something like this...my dad."
"Makes you proud doesn't it? This fishing trip for these kids is something really important to your dad. He loves these kids and they love him. He bought all the fishing equipment...do you know that? Of course you don't. There are a lot of things about your dad that you don't know. Things that would make you proud of him, but that he does anonymously. He's a really good Christian. I just can't get him into church. He says sitting there while the preacher talks puts him to sleep. That doesn't stop him from donating tremendous sums to my church missions though."
Robert just sat staring at Richie with a faraway look. He was having to absorb a tremendous amount of life-changing information in a very short period of time. What he was finding out made him feel so ignorant, so stupid, so...self-involved.
Finally, he blurted out, "Help, I'm blind! I must be blind. All this has been going on around me, and I saw nothing. How can I be so blind, Richie?"
Richie kept his concentration on the road. He had a van with a precious cargo. He didn't need to lose concentration. But Robert was going through that long prayed for life changing realization that who he is had to change. Richie said, "Robert it's ok. We all grow up at different times, at different ages. You're a good man, Robert. Me and your parents knew there was a good heart underneath that stone facade. You gotta keep it together for now. We've got a van load of kids that have been entrusted to our care."
Robert unbuckled his seat belt, and, turning to the kids, said, "Hey, you guys ready for McDonalds?"
Richie smiled remarking half to himself, "Who is this new man next to me?"
Richie drove along the road to the maintenance building this beautiful Monday morning doing his usual inspection. In spite of his attention to business, his thoughts drifted to this being Robert's last week at the course and how different Robert was as a human being compared to the day he first arrived. His father had been burning Richie's ears almost daily with compliments on the change, but Richie would have none of it. He loved special projects, especially, when they dealt with helping others with their problems. He knew underneath that hard facade everyone has a good heart. He loved tearing away the built-up layers to get at that beautiful heart within. Besides, helping others was the best way to make you forget about your own problems.
Richie walked into his office and immediately noticed a new computer and printer set up with an envelope taped to the tower that read: Richie, do not use till you read these instructions.
Richie was dumbfounded. He took the envelope and sat down at his desk. Inside the envelope was a handwritten letter. He took the letter leaning back in his chair and began to read.
Dear Richie, my Boss and Friend,
I hope you can read this. I decided to handwrite this so you would know that I didn't have my secretary compose and write it. I'm stepping out of my old comfort zone in writing this to you.
I hope you do not mind my taking this last week off. I desperately need to accomplish some things that should have been done long ago. First, the computer, it is loaded with all the programs you will need to track your budgets, personnel, daily/yearly maintenance schedules, etc. It will save so much time and be so much more efficient than the old handwritten method that you labored so long and hard over. The accounting section is sending a man to you, today, to train you and work with you on loading in all the info. He or she will work with you for as long as needed to get you proficient in its use. I know you have the intelligence to learn the process. Remember what you taught me, you don't have to come in first place to win. You just have to give it your best effort.
The keys in the envelope are a secret between you and I. They go to a new van. Don't worry. It's paid for along with the insurance. That old van of yours is not safe for the kids to be riding in, and a man in your position shouldn't be driving around in a jalopy like that anyway. Remember, keep this between you and I.
Oh, yeah, about your position as Greenskeeper, Dad and I had a long talk. He wants me to take a new position as VP of Accounting. Why, I don't know. Surely, I have done nothing to deserve it apart from the fact I'm the spoiled boss' son. In my place as Director of Golf Courses, I suggested you. Dad shot that down...unless, I gave you a lot more money than I had been making. He said, you would actually do an honest day's work in that position. We're giving you a month to get comfortable with the new system and teach it to the successor of your choosing. Then you will move into the office I am vacating. Naturally, with your approval.
Richie, don't think you're rid of me. I'll be there next summer for fishing season with the kids. Maybe I'll be able to take a few fishing lessons from you between now and then.
God bless you my friend. You taught me more in one summer than I learned in four years at that Ivy League college. In other words, thank you for the miracle of sight.