When I was a young kid growing up in Lynn, Massachusetts, I probably didn't realize it but it was one of the poorer cities in the state. I was eight years old and I can remember walking over to the record store on Market Street to buy my first record, Can't Buy Me Love. As much of a Beatles fan as I was, who would have thought that they would have gotten me thinking about my priorities in life? (Of course, my older brother gave me a hard time a few years later for getting Johnny Cash’s A Boy Names Sue over the Rolling Stone’s Honky Tonk Woman – so I can’t say that my musical taste was overly discerning). I probably bought Can’t Buy Me Love because I thought the song was fun but there was something about the lyrics of the song that did hit home though, even in those early years.
Maybe growing up in Lynn gave me an early sense that people mattered much more than things or money. No one in my world had a lot of money, a big expensive house or a nice car, never mind a new one. Growing up without those diversions and false priorities may have been a gift since it seemed clear that life was really about relationships and the rest was just noise and empty distraction. You can’t buy true love and real friendship with money. As the lyrics say, everybody knows that and everybody is saying it. Even though the singer in the song did not have lot, he was willing to give everything he had. Even though it was conditional on her loving him too, it seemed right to be willing to give everything for what counted and to be self-sacrificing in love. I like the fact that what really appealed to him was a girl that wanted the things in life that mattered as well, not the diamond ring, the money or any “thing” else.
I don’t know if it had anything to do with the song but I felt determined early on to keep the real priorities in life front and center, and never let wealth, status, power or material things become more than they were really worth. I didn’t want to be fooled by the glitter and false promises and, like everyone, I knew that those things would never ultimately satisfy me deep inside. It was an easy task when access to those things were limited and I grew up looking for a soul-mate that appreciated the things that counted and not the diamond ring, the big house and the image of importance and popularity. About twenty years after I bought that record, I was dating a young woman that I was falling very deeply in love with. One day we were on a date walking around downtown Boston and stopped in front of a jewelry store for fun. She pointed out a blue sapphire ring that she said would be more than happy with instead of a much more expensive diamond ring. I instantly thought of the lyrics from Can’t Buy Me Love and smiled as I had another good reason to like this girl’s soul.
As the song goes, everybody seems to know that money can’t buy the important things in life but it may be one of those things that is easier to know in your head than to do in life. As I have made more money and lived in smaller town with more affluence and less poverty, I have found that I need to remind myself more often to focus on the people around me, and to notice those in need. I have to stop to remember how fortunate we are and how others struggle with just the basic necessities. "Out of sight, out of mind" can be an all too real phenomenon in life. I need to take myself physically out of my safe and comfortable environment to remember the feelings that made me want to be a teacher, to make a difference to my family and community, and to really appreciate what I have – but more importantly what really counts in life. Someday, take a piece of paper and actually write down, in order of importance, what you think are the most important priorities in your life and then write down where you spend your time, your thoughts and pursuits in life. Hopefully your lists have a lot of overlap but see how much time are you really spending on the things that money can’t buy?
We can find ourselves getting this backwards at times but - "love people and use things."