What would you spend your top dollar on?
I’d like to treat this as a meta-question–which is to say, a question about something larger than a single thing . . . like a BMW or a jet ski or a bag of Doritos. Or perhaps the whole “top dollar” thing is a metaphor for the way I spend anything of value, like time and attention. In other words, I’d prefer to treat this question as a question about what I really care about.
Actually, put that way, as a question about what I value, I’m not sure I want to answer it anymore. Why? Because I’m aware that what I “say” I value doesn’t always map onto the way I spend my real time and attention (or my “top dollars” for that matter). You see, because if you ask me in an offhanded way about what I really care about, I’ll say something perfectly honorable–something about my family, or God, or pursuing justice. And I’ll mean it. I really do love my family, and God, and justice. If, on the other hand, you ask me (sort of looking me in the eye and expecting a totally honest answer) what do you spend the bulk of your time on, if you want to know to what I devote the greatest portion of my attention, and if I’m honest, I’ll say, “Myself.”
When I was in high school, my younger brother and I shared a room. He generally kept his half of it in better shape than I did. Even for a teenager, he was extraordinarily conscientious. I, on the other hand, was pretty self-involved. I had places to go, people to impress. We had a conversation one day, the subject of which escapes my memory. But he said one thing that I’ll never forget–and it pains me to think of it, since vestiges of it are still apparent to me in those moments when I’m most honest with myself. He said in this earnest fifteen year-old way that, in my experience, only my brother could muster up without rancor or irony, “You’re a selfish person, Derek. You know that, don’t you?”
I was, and am, a selfish person. I’m better now at masking it, perhaps. But it’s still there. I know where my “top dollar” time and attention go.
On the other hand, tomorrow I will be celebrating 24 years of marriage to the same wonderful woman. Somehow or another, I’ve been blessed to have someone patient enough with me to love me in my smallness, as well as someone with enough psychic wherewithal to be impatient enough with my self-absorption not to be satisfied to let it go at that. She reminds me that my high-sounding ideals at some point need to inform and shape the way I spend my actual time and attention in order to be real, and not just self-congratulatory illusions.
I’m not enough of a romantic to believe in epiphanies, which result in grand pronouncements that change everything in some magical moment of insight and resolve. However, if by saying it publicly, I set up in you (dear reader) expectations that I am aware of and plan actively to work on realigning my ideals with the reality of the way I spend my time and attention, then perhaps I actually will begin paying “top dollar” for something worthwhile, something I really do care about.