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Living a rich life

Published August 28. 2010 09:00AM

When a longtime friend from my old hometown contacts me after a lapse of a few years, he wants to know how I am enjoying life in southwest Florida.

The telephone conversation is going well until I mention I'm lucky I heard the phone ring because I was outside cleaning my swimming pool.

"Swimming pool?" he queries in astonishment." You have your own swimming pool? You must be rich," he asserts.

I remind him I am living in hot and humid Florida where backyard swimming pools are as common as rain spouting in Pennsylvania.

"You have to be rich to have a house with your own swimming pool. You're rich!" he kept insisting.

The irony is that I live in a wonderful but quite modest neighborhood while he and his wife live in a palatial home worthy of a nice spread in House Beautiful.

I told him about the three-bedroom home on my block - complete with a big swimming pool - that just sold for $70,000 - only $10,000 more than he paid for his luxury car.

Obviously, I was trying to make the point that one doesn't have to be rich to own a home with a swimming pool in Florida. But he wouldn't be deterred and I was miffed at his insistence that I was rich.

But after I hung up I went back to my pool and I realized my Pennsylvania friend is right. I am rich. As I do a lazy side crawl in my lap pool, I feel rich - rich with an appreciation of life.

I feel rich, too, when I look from my pool at the great expanse of sunny blue skies and the lush surroundings of gently-swaying Palm trees. I've always loved Palm trees and I never get tired of seeing them.

When I lived in Pennsylvania, I felt the same way about nature. When I could sit in my Palmerton backyard and listen to the tranquil sound of a waterfall while I watched wildlife scurry by, I felt rich, indeed.

To me, "rich" doesn't mean a lot of zeros after the balance of your bank account. Rich means being aware of all the blessings you've been given and appreciating every one of them.

Rich means getting up in the morning to another day filled with sunshine. And, to me, rich means being able to spend each day doing anything I want.

All of my working life I worked hard for 50 weeks each year so I could have the reward of spending two weeks at the beach.

Everything about the beach used to thrill me - from the cries of seagulls to the mesmerizing sound of the ocean, from the sight of sandpipers and sand crabs to the sight of fiery sunsets and playful dolphins dancing by. Those simple pleasures still thrill me.

The difference is that now I don't have to wait 50 weeks in between my beach adventures. I can have them on a daily basis.

Early one morning last week I sat on the beach lapping up the beauty before me and thought again about my conversation with my friend, Paul.

He's right. I am rich. Anyone who can experience the beauty of our natural world is rich. Anyone who can call the great outdoors their personal playground is rich.

My brother was always like Zorba the Greek singing about how happy he would be if he were a rich man. When Richard did find total happiness, it was in two acres of mountain land with a simple cabin. His daily outdoor adventures bring him riches far greater than any bank account.

When I was kayaking last week with our kayak club, one member was expressing the same thoughts I have about outdoor riches.

"I feel like royalty," said Claus as he paddled on one of the wonderful waterways that make this a nature lover's paradise.

"How can you have all this outdoor pleasure and not feel lucky to be here?" he asked as he talked about how lucky he feels to live here.

Claus and his wife, Karen, say they wonder why people speak with longing for what they call, "the good old days."

"Compared to what we have now, the good old days weren't so good," said Karen. She and her husband, who grew up in war-torn Germany, say that no matter how bad the financial picture grows here, it can't be as bad as what they saw in Germany.

Claus knows that the daily riches of everyday life are there for the asking. We just have to learn to be more aware of them.

"Here, I live like a king," Claus repeated. "It's easy for people to complain but I think they should look around and appreciate all we have that we overlook or take for granted."

Years ago, I interviewed a family from a small town in Hungary that was visiting America for the first time.

You know what fascinated them most? Our supermarkets.

They marveled at the great variety of food that was available year-round, not just during a short growing season. They thought Americans were all rich because of having such abundance at their fingertips.

When I think about all that, when I think about the joys and wonders of each day of life, I realize we are rich. And it isn't just having a swimming pool that makes it so.

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