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This Began with a Pen

David Gartland

MY FAMILY ATTENDED the wedding of our neighbor’s daughter. I was seated next to a friend of my neighbor. My wife believes the seating chart was based on the fact that the family has special needs children. This has happened frequently over the years. It’s as if those of us with special needs children speak a different language.

During the course of the evening, the husband asked me if I had a pen. I knew I did, since I always carry a pen or mechanical pencil, along with a piece of paper, in my pocket.

I do this because I know how I think. If an idea pops into my brain, I need to capture it on paper immediately. If I don’t, it most likely will be lost forever because something else will fill that space, such as a visual distraction or a conversation I overhear. It happens all the time.

I proceeded to hand over the pen to the husband. He, in turn, handed it to his wife. That’s where progress died. The pen sat on the table and didn’t move.

Now, the pen cost me $0.00, since it was given to me by a business that was handing them out for advertising purposes, so my anxiety at seeing the pen sit there wasn’t due to the size of my investment. Rather, it was because my habitual behavior was being interrupted. What would happen if a magical idea popped into my head, while this instrument for capturing thoughts was out of reach?

I debated the issue with myself. The pen wasn’t valuable. Shouldn’t I be generous with what I have to help out a fellow human being? Of course, I should. I knew I could get another pen when I got home, since I have many of these freebies. I thought about how I was foolishly agonizing over a stupid pen—a pen that cost me nothing. And yet that pen is so important to my way of life.

I sat there thinking about this high-stakes game of “should I be obnoxious and ask for my pen back” or “should I be a nice guy and let the couple have the pen for as long as they like?” The straw that broke the camel’s back: I saw his wife use my pen to tap on a glass as guests encouraged the bride and groom to kiss. That did it. 

I asked the husband, “Are you going to use the pen?” He saw the pen sitting there and said, “I guess my wife didn’t need it.” He handed it back to me. This valuable asset was now back in my life and in my control. It was available once again to capture the next brilliant idea that came to me.

I recently read an article about downsizing, and how to decide what goes and what stays. The illustration used was an expensive Rolex watch that had sat in its box for 20 years and a cheap Casio watch that’s worn every day. The Rolex is worth more because it costs more, but it’s classified as clutter since it just sits in the drawer and isn’t used. It would be better to sell or give away the Rolex, thus freeing up storage space. The Casio, on the other hand, is valuable since it helps you get to work on time, and thereby helps you make money.

That’s the way with many things in my life. It’s not how much I spent on an item, but how much use I get out of it.

In an earlier article, I mentioned that I’ve spent significant money over the years collecting Craftsman hand tools, since I do a lot of maintenance and repairs on my car and around the house. Craftsman tools aren’t overly expensive, but they aren’t the cheapest, either. On one occasion, I was in an auto parts store. There were some no-name tools sitting on a table for $1 each. I saw a long-slotted screwdriver and bought it on a whim, even though it wasn’t a Craftsman with its “lifetime guarantee.” That screwdriver has gotten me out of more jams than I can count. I laugh every time I select it over my Craftsman screwdrivers. I’m glad I didn’t let the quality and cost of the tool stop me from buying it.

Cost and value are often considered one and the same. But I bet that, if you think of the most important and memorable trips you’ve taken or things you own, they weren’t always the most expensive. They were just very valuable to you.

David Gartland was born and raised on Long Island, New York, and has lived in central New Jersey since 1987. He earned a bachelor’s degree in math from the State University of New York at Cortland and holds various professional insurance designations. Dave’s property and casualty insurance career with different companies lasted 42 years. He’s been married 36 years, and has a son with special needs. Dave has identified three areas of interest that he focuses on to enjoy retirement: exploring, learning and accomplishing. Pursuing any one of these leads to contentment. Check out Dave’s earlier articles.

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