Fortunes Lost And Won Again

The other night I was out grabbing a quick bite at a place I frequent and was seated some distance from the bar.  Since it was a game of the Boston/Vancouver hockey playoffs that meant there weren’t too many people nearby.  The sound level was much lower than usual.  At another table were two men, one in his late twenties or early thirties.  The other gentleman was much older, in his seventies would be my guess.  The younger man was dressed in khakis and a polo shirt.  The older, silver haired man wore a jacket and tie.

I confess to shameless eavesdropping but in my own defense there really wasn’t much else going on.  At first I thought the older man was a relative, possibly a grandfather.  It became clear that wasn’t the case.  Somebody somewhere had asked this man to talk to this younger fellow.

The topic was business and, in this case, a failing enterprise.  The younger man talked (far too much) about his company’s wonderfully promising design for something that would revolutionize something or other.  He had joined this company early and become part of the entourage of its entrepreneurial chief.   The chief had managed to blow a large sum of investor cash on lots of sushi and drinks for everyone.  This young man had moved to Boston and had a young wife and a mortgage and blah blah blah.  You can guess the story.  Now he was contemplating taking out a loan to join some others in buying out this company headed into bankruptcy.

The older man was extremely patient and provided some advice as well as humor while they spoke and ate.  He pointed out that he had known a lot of men through the years that had made fortunes and then lost them and then worked to make them back.  It happens.  C’est la guerre.  In a kindly way the older man was telling polo shirt boy that it was far from clear he was ready or able to be one of those men.

Polo shirt boy didn’t get it.  At one point the younger man stated that it would be nice if they could just stabilize the company so he didn’t have to work sixty to seventy hours a week.  This very dignified older man said simply “I still work sixty hours a week”.

Insert whatever sound effect you like here…… breaking glass, a needle across a vinyl record, the distinct smack of a bitch slap.  It all works.  You had to be there I guess but even I felt like a lame punk and I wasn’t the young guy who just put his foot in his mouth.   For a moment I felt like I should either applaud or commit seppuku with my butter knife.   You can trust my instincts or not but I feel confident that this guy wasn’t working in his seventies because he needed the cash.  It was just what one ought to do.  While I sat there pretending not to listen and sucking back my second martini I was strongly reminded of a quote I first encountered way back when I was in college.

“A general of great merit should be said to be a man who has recovered from at least one great defeat.”—Asakura Norikage (1474-1555)

Asakura Norikage was a samurai general of the Asakura clan during the warring states period.  He was not an armchair theorist.  He commanded and fought in a number of campaigns.  Noted for intellectual as well as military accomplishments, he eventually became a monk and took the name Soteki.  He came out of retirement and led an army again before falling ill and dying at 78.  He worked sixty hours a week too I suspect.  I doubt he wished for an easier life.

Is that what Agathos requires?  Is it the ability to get up again and again?  To recover from defeat in order to be a person of merit?  I think that is at least part of it.  Whatever the case, the fates put me there to get that good swift kick in the ass.  I don’t know if polo shirt boy got the lesson.  I certainly did.

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