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A Tale of Three Brothers

Two of Nina’s uncles taught her that the key to happiness is selflessness.

Her father, their other brother, taught her just the opposite.

A few nights ago, we again chatted with Nina, a waitress who has served us at least twice at the Lolo Peak Brewery in Lolo, Montana. She is thoughtful and kind, a bright individual and a wonderful conversationalist.

In between customers, we asked her if she would tell us something she has learned over the years that has made a difference in her life, or something she wishes other people knew. When she returned to our table during a lull, she was bubbling over with a story to tell. She said she knew instantly how to answer our questions. Nina proceeded to tell us about her two uncles and their brother, her father. Only one of the men is still living.

First, she told us about Uncle Ron. He was from Billings—all of them were, actually, but Ron continued to live there, in between his stints of travel. He was a lover of motorcycles, Harley Davidsons, in particular, and even went so far as to ship a Harley to the northern end of the African continent, just so he could ride it all the way down to the southern tip. Oh, the stories he collected along the way!

Uncle Ron was also a lover of women—but not like it sounds. No, he truly loved them for who they were, for who they are, and for who they could be—if given the chance. During his travels, Uncle Ron sought out women who had been abused—often through prostitution. He specifically looked for women who’d had their teeth smashed in at the hands of violent men. He would take these women, in whatever country he encountered them, to a dentist who specialized in reconstructive dental work. He would see them through the consultation process, then pick up the bill, paying for their entire treatment. His goal was to restore their smiles—a gift for the present, as well as the future. For so many of these women, Uncle Ron’s gift of a restored smile changed their lives completely. That, in turn, changed his life and brought him a smile. The treatments were expensive, but it was how he chose to spend his money.

When Uncle Ron visited Cuba, he met a woman who was a former prostitute. She had several children and was struggling to get by—rejected as she was by her community and lacking a husband to protect and provide for her. He wanted to support her financially, but relations between Cuba and the United States were tense at best, and any money he sent to her would be subject to nearly impossible restrictions. The only way he could regularly send money to a woman in Cuba without government interference is if he was her husband. So, he married her. He didn’t stay in Cuba. By mutual agreement, their relationship was never intended to be a long-distance romance. He just wanted to be able to support her and her children. He promised to send her $40 a month for the rest of her life—an amount that would make a tremendous difference in her quality of life.

Upon his death fifteen years ago, the family discovered that Uncle Ron was actually a low-key millionaire, not at all flashy or obvious, but technically a millionaire. They had no idea. He had lived in a remarkably small and humble home his entire adult life, devoting himself to seeking out the downtrodden and spending his money where he thought it could be the most useful to improve the lives of others. It brought him immense joy.

Nina’s family contacted Ron’s wife in Cuba to assure her that her monthly support would not stop. They continue to see to it that she and her children are well-taken care of. She is loved.

Uncle Ron is a legend in Nina’s family. Nina counts him among her heroes, her mentors, a life-coach who led by example.

Next, Nina told us about Uncle Mike, her uncle who went into the medical field in the Seattle area. After years of working as a doctor, though, Uncle Mike became disillusioned. He originally became a doctor because he wanted to help people, but in the hospital setting where he worked, he found that his role was increasingly simplified to that of a prescription writer, a person whose signature authorizes treatment, someone who occasionally checks in on his patients, but then has to quickly move along, leaving the actual hands and heart care to the nurses.

So, Uncle Mike quit his job. If the person who got to make the most significant interpersonal difference in a patient's hospital experience—on a practical level—was the nurse, then Dr. Mike wanted to be a nurse instead. He studied up on nurses’ duties and got himself certified. After working for years as a doctor, he became a registered nurse named not Dr. Mike, but just Mike.

Uncle Mike’s career satisfaction level skyrocketed. He worked the rest of his career as the most well-educated nurse the hospital had ever seen.

When Uncle Mike passed away six years ago, he was extremely well-respected in the medical community, as well as within his family. He would have been more highly compensated, at least financially, had he remained a doctor, but his life would not have been as rich—and his legacy would not have been as significant.

The third brother Nina told us about is her own father. She didn’t have much to say about him, other than to point out his selfishness, his coarseness, his drunkenness. Although he is the only one of the three brothers still living, he is the one who has been the most consistently miserable, unhappy, and alone throughout his life. He has lived for himself and himself only, and it has not paid off for him. He has gained nothing from his small-minded focus.

For Nina, the most important lesson she has learned over the course of her life—the thing she wishes other people understood better—is what she has learned from the three brothers, her two uncles and her father. Selflessness—serving others out of genuine love and compassion—is the key to a life of happiness, contentedness, satisfaction.

We went to the brewery the other night just to sip a cold beverage and celebrate the melting of the ice and snow—perhaps not yet fully spring, but at least not fully winter. In our high-elevation mountain valley Montana, spring takes its sweet time to fully arrive, so we celebrate “not winter” as an informal holiday of sorts.

But our simple celebration turned into something so much richer when we asked Nina to tell us something she’s learned, something she wishes others understood.

Selflessness. That’s the key. Between her uncles' positive example and her father's negative one, she has seen all the proof she needs.


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