I own a timeshare in one of the most beautiful parts of St. Louis, on Wydown Avenue. Anyone who’s been to Washington University has driven or walked along this road. Why, you might ask, would I have a timeshare in the middle of the country, as opposed to Barbados or Puerto Vallarta? On Wydown, there are no palm trees, snow-capped mountains or world-class surf spots nearby. But unless you’re an oil sheikh with enough money to buy an island country, this place is bigger than any timeshare you’ll find. There’s a tree-lined boulevard, manicured lawns, beautiful gardens and over thirty 4,000 square-foot homes. The architecture is wonderfully varied. Colonial, Spanish and Modern all collide in a mish-mash that somehow works. I own every inch of it while I’m there, and the best part is that I’ve never paid a single penny for it.
I visit my timeshare often – two or three times a week, sometimes more depending on the weather. I don’t stay for long. 10 or 15 minutes does the trick. I never set foot inside these mansions; I don’t need to. I prefer the view from outside. I can smell the flowers, admire the brickwork and soak up the sunshine from the sidewalk.
You wouldn’t believe how close this place is to my home. Instead of hopping in my personal jet and breathing my own recycled breath for thousands of miles, I simply slip on my running shoes and I’m at Wydown in 17 minutes or less. Even if I’m not winded, I’ll slow to a fast walk between Demun and WashU in order to take in the view.
None of the locals know about my timeshare. We don’t see each other in the board room or at the country club. We do not take yearly trips to the Hamptons. And as much as I’d love to sample their 100 year-old whiskies made by blind monks in the highlands of northern Japan, I’ve never tasted a drop.
None of this bothers me. Well, except for the rare whisky part. As stated above, I have regular access to this timeshare and I’ve paid precisely zilch for the pleasure. All it costs me is a little sweat and the time it takes to run 4.5 miles at a blood-pumping pace.
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The point of owning a house, a car, or a painting is to enjoy that object whenever you want, right? We usually measure wealth in cold, hard cash and holdings. But why shouldn’t we judge a man’s wealth by the profundity of his appreciation? After all, we can’t take any of it with us when we die. In the grand scheme of things, what difference does it make if I inhabit a place for five minutes or five decades? Does the burden of a mortgage legitimize my appreciation of something beautiful?
When it comes to most things, I’ll take free temporary enjoyment over long-term debt without a moment’s hesitation. If appreciation is a measure of wealth, then I’m rich beyond measure. Sure, I’ll never be a Wall Street hero. I didn’t scarf up Wydown Avenue as the result of a brilliant business takeover that would make Andrew Carnegie blush. But there is one thing I’ve learned in my life, and I wouldn’t sell it for any price. I’ve learned to see. I mean that by much practice, I’ve discovered how to truly observe in a way that is purposeful, grateful, and discerning. I’m rarely awake enough to really engage with what’s in front of me. But occasionally I’m completely present, and the power of whatever I’m experiencing almost knocks the wind out of me.
The trouble with constant access to opulence is that one becomes numb to it. Gratitude gives way to entitlement, and appreciation dwindles. As a person who usually eats and sleeps in a house that is definitely not 4,000 square feet, my appreciation for Wydown Avenue is renewed every time I go for a run. I wonder if the same could be said of the people who wake up every morning in those cavernous bedrooms. If they look out the window and notice anything, they might be more inclined to wonder who the weird sweaty guy is that’s staring slack-jawed at the begonias.
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