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The sad tale of my rich Uncle Sam’s lonely trip to the banker

One day after my rich uncle’s birthday, he went to a bank and told the banker he needed a loan. The banker replied, “Certainly, Sam, that’s what we do here. Why don’t you come up to my office and we can discuss what you need?”

They grabbed a cup of coffee, took the elevator to the top floor, took a seat, and the banker leaned over his desk and said, “Sam, I’m a little surprised to see you here in our loan department. I’ve always considered you to be very wealthy, and I know you have done a lot for your community over the years out of your own pocket, so, tell me, what can we do for you?”

Well, my uncle began to tell him that he had spent most of his life tending to his family, you know, providing food and houses, protecting them when they needed it, making sure they got a good education, and the like. He told the banker that, when he saw neighbors who were having trouble, he would always try to help those who couldn’t help themselves. My uncle went on to say the banker was right. He was wealthy, but recently he had been having trouble making ends meet, so he thought he would borrow some more money.

The banker said, “Sure, but first we have to fill out a few forms.” The banker asked Sam how much he earned every year. My Uncle Sam replied, “Oh, about $3.5 trillion.” The banker was impressed. Then he asked Sam how much he spends. Sam said, “Oh, about $4.6 trillion or so.”

The banker slowly looked up over his bifocals. An uncomfortable pause penetrated the room like a fog. The banker put his pencil down and leaned back in his oversized chair.

“Did I hear you correctly Sam? You said $4.6 trillion, right?” My uncle replied, like he often does, “Pert near…”

You could see the wheels turning in the banker’s mind. “You are going backwards Sam. How long you been doing this Sam?” My uncle said for quite some time now, maybe the last 25 years. The banker again, “Sam, the math doesn’t work out very well, unless you have been borrowing from some other bank, is that the case?”

Sam hung his shoulders a bit, took in a mighty breath and let it out in a slight whistle through his teeth. He used to do that when he was nervous, but this time, it was different. He had hidden the truth for too long and he knew he had to come clean.

Sam began to tell the banker an amazing tale. He told how he had taken all the money from the old wooden lock box that used to belong to his grandfather, the one that Sam’s wife had been dropping money into each month for years, hoping they could someday retire on the contents. Sam told of borrowing money from friends, neighbors, even folks he didn’t know. He borrowed from other banks, even some different countries. But the thing Uncle Sam was most ashamed of was he was now borrowing from his own kids and had actually taken money from his grandchildren.

The banker had not uttered a word during my uncle’s confession. He sat in that black leather chair and listened to Sam, but the time had come when he had to ask, “Sam, if you don’t mind telling me, how much do you owe?”

“A little over $22 trillion,” Sam said without looking up.

Again, there was an awkward moment, the banker with his eyebrows raised, my uncle looking down at his worn-out shoes. Sam remembered when he bought those shoes. As he strung the laces for the first time, he wondered where those shoes would take him and just how far they would go, and how long they would last. They had been good shoes, always right there next to the porch door, ready to go, but now they were tired, showing signs of wear, both laces had been broken and retied together, and he knew they wouldn’t last long.

Finally, the silence was broken with soft words from the banker.

“Sam, you and I have known each other a long time. We weren’t always that close, even though I have stayed up on what you have done all these years. I admired your courage, your willingness to help others, and, at times, I have to admit, I was a bit jealous. But now, tell me, what happened? Where did you go wrong?”

My Uncle Sam thought about it for a moment and said, “I strayed. I strayed away from what my parents and grandparents taught me. They said be honest, not only with your family and friends, but with yourself, yet I lied about taking the money from the lock box. My parents said be compassionate to those who can’t help themselves, but I thought I could make more friends if I helped out even those who were capable on their own. I was wrong. I kept sticking my nose into other people’s business and, before you knew it, they were asking me for money, and I just kept giving it to them. I couldn’t stop. The more I gave, the more people liked me, or so it seemed. Turns out they didn’t really like me. It was the money, only the money. And now I’m broke.

“I’m broke and my family needs me now more than ever before. I got nowhere else to turn. I have spent my last dollar traveling to see you, hoping you would loan me more money.”

The banker rose and strolled to the window, looked out over the skyline of his city, Beijing, China, and, with his back turned to my uncle, the banker smiled.