There was a man all alone;
he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,
“and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless—
a miserable business!
Ecclesiastes 4:8 (NIV)
A few weeks ago I happened upon a post on LinkedIn. It was one of those heart-warming stories that almost sounds too good to be true. It made me curious. I dug into the story. I’d like to share with you what I learned.
Dale Schroeder was an Iowan from my hometown of Des Moines. He grew up poor, and couldn’t afford college. After high school he got a job as a carpenter and showed up at work every day for the same company for 67 years. It appears that retirement wasn’t something he considered worthwhile. Dale lived simply. He owned two pair of jeans. He had one pair of jeans for work and one pair of jeans for church.
One day, Dale showed up at the office of his friend and attorney. He told his friend he’d been thinking. He didn’t have the money to go to college and he’d like to give kids who couldn’t afford it the opportunity he never had. He wanted to set up a fund and invest all his savings for the project.
“How much are we talking, Dale?” his attorney asked.
“Oh, just shy of three million,” Dale answered.
Dale’s fund paid for the college education of 33 young people before the funds ran out. Calling themselves “Dale’s Kids” the strangers, who are now doctors, therapists, and teachers because of Dale’s gift, meet periodically to honor his legacy.
A simple man, Dale asked only one thing in return for his generosity. He asked that they pay-it-forward. “You can’t pay it back,” his attorney would explain, “because Dale is gone, but you can remember him and you can emulate him.”
If I pull back and look at today’s chapter from a distance, I find that the Sage has divided his wisdom into two parts. In verses 1-6, the Teacher describes the cold futility of self-centric lives and the tragic fruit of living lives of envy, greed, and hatred. In verses 7-16 the focus shifts. Verse 8 describes Dale sitting on his three million in the bank, asking himself “What am I going to do with all this money I’ve stored up my entire life?”
Verses 9-12 describes the value of living, not for self, but for another.
“Do something for someone else,” the Sage proposes as he whispers to me in my soul. “Invest the fruit of your labor into someone else’s need. Step out of the chill of self-centered isolation and warm another person with your kindness, then feel the warmth of their gratitude take the chill out of your own soul. Tom, if you look below in order to reach down and lift another person up your gaze won’t be fixated enviously on the height of other people’s stacks of stuff.”
In the quiet this morning, I find myself pondering Dale Schroeder showing up to work every day in his work jeans for 67 years in order to invest everything into the lives of 33 strangers. It’s an act of extravagant generosity that has not only changed the lives of those 33, but also their families, patients, students, and descendants. Who knows how it will be gratefully paid forward to affect the lives of countless others that you and I will never know about.
The Sage has me silently asking myself this morning:
“What is truly valuable in this life?”
“What does my life reveal about what I truly value?”
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.