Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: Clapping with One Hand

No two conditions are more universally acclaimed by society as the source of happiness than youth and wealth. If the mythology by which we live is correct, the simultaneous achievement of both should make a person ecstatically happy. Most of us spend considerable time and energy trying to achieve wealth and retain youth.

Let me tell you a story about a woman whose name has been changed to protect the guilty, but the story is true.

At the age of twenty-five Rosemary Russell was wealthier than most successful men at fifty. She was smart, good-looking, and ambitious. She was earning $75,000 a year at her job at a time in which this was a large amount of money. She owned a string of income-producing properties. She owned her own home and a silver Mercedes 450 SL parked in front of it. Rosemary had a talent for figuring fine-print escrow clauses, and it was paying off handsomely. She had it all: youth, beauty, and wealth.

Something, however, was missing in Rosemary's life. One day she drove her silver Mercedes sports coupe to Laguna Beach, checked into a fine hotel and checked out of life within the same hour. It was an overdose of sleeping pills, and it was not accidental. She made this clear in the note she left behind. She said she was ending her life because she was "tired of clapping with one hand."

I did not know Rosemary Russell, but I have met her/him many times in the last sixty years. Perhaps you have met her in the person of someone who is clapping with one hand and just can't seem to find the other. We have all met people who have achieved wealth before discovering that they have a hole in their lives, and the wealth will not buy certain essential intangible values.

The irony of it all is that youth, beauty, and wealth are marvelous possessions. It is only when they are pursued and achieved in the absence of faith, hope, and love that life becomes empty and everything falls apart. Many years ago, in an address to the graduating students of McGill University, Rudyard Kipling warned the students against an overwhelming concern for wealth. He told them that some day they would meet a person who cares nothing for wealth, and then they would discover how powerful that person is, and how powerless those who are dominated by wealth are. Mother Teresa comes to mind.

If you ever find yourself clapping with one hand, and chances are you will, you do not have to kill yourself in order to correct the problem and find meaning in life. Look for the things you have neglected or ignored in order to make it to the top. Or if you're not at the top, look for what you have nelected or ignored in your quest to reach the top, or in your daily struggle just to survive; to survive until the next paycheck, to survive the loneliness of raising a child who has special needs, to survive your immediate family living hundreds or thousands of miles away, to survive the loss of a special friend, or the breach of a special friendship, or the ending of a marriage. Reach out to family. Look for friends--both old and new. Find people who have compassionate understanding who will listen to you and care, and yes, look for God. These are likely the persons and values that have fallen through the cracks in your life on the way to where you presently are. You are not alone. It happens to many of us. There is still time to make changes. There is no better time to begin than now.

Look for your other hand and you will be able to gain that essential balance without which there is no meaningful applause in life. Can you hear what I am saying? I hope so. It begs to be heard.