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Matters of the heart and matters of the pocketbook don't align

Poet and I were having one of our hour-long conversations. I was driving somewhere with a wireless piece tucked into my ear, catching up on Poet's stories and sharing a few of mine.

It is a wonderful way to pass time on a long drive.

For his part, Poet, I am certain, was sitting on the veranda, gazing leisurely out on his vast Mississippi estate. He was not working, of that much I am sure. Plus, Poet is at his best philosophizing when he can see the soil in which his family roots are so deeply embedded they almost reach to China.

Now, I can't recall exactly what the story was but whatever it was led me to comment - sagely, I might add - that there are things worse than dying. I meant that a stroke or accident that leaves one in a vegetative state is worse. That much I do recall.

Poet replied quicker than the second it takes to make instant grits. "That's right. The worse thing that can happen is to go broke and live forever."

It was so unexpected and so hilarious that I banged the back of my head against the head rest and howled loudly. Poet, though, had a point to make and he was going to make it. He would not be deterred. Somberly, he continued.

"You laugh but it's the gospel."

As the yarn unspooled, he explained that ol' so-and-so from down in such-and-such who was close to Poet's family had been born into great Mississippi Delta wealth. Enough money, Poet stressed, that not only should he never have to hit a lick at anything in his life but his children would be just as fortunate. Their aristocratic fingers and hands were never be calloused by manual labor.

Aw, but those born into wealth rarely appreciate the dimes in a dollar or the hard work that goes into making it. So, ol' so-and-so blew through every penny of the massive fortune by the time he was 53.

"Just like that, he was broke," Poet drawled. "Said he never saw it comin', though, for the life of me, I cannot conceive how that could be. If the boll weevils reared their ugly little heads in my cotton fields, then I'd pretty much know that was going to seriously impact my pocketbook. But not he. Oh, no. He didn't comprehend economics. Even though I matriculated for six years at Ole Miss and yet failed, somehow, to acquire a degree, I understand economics."

"What happened to him?"

"Oh, that is a tale of woe, indeed. He was ill prepared to face life as a wage earner. Let's just say that my academic endeavors at the University of Mississippi resemble favorably a work of art compared to his efforts of earning a living. Not pretty a'tall."

He paused before adding, "And the most unfortunate thing is that his people live a long time. His grandmother was 100 when she died." Then Poet summed it up as only he can. "That means that he'll probably live to be broke for as many years as he was rich. It is not a happy way to play out your life."

It was a captivating story, launched by such an amusing bit of wisdom by Poet. But something about it clung to the crevices of my mind. I couldn't forget it.

Somewhere I heard that people who are destined for tremendous success will either have it during the first half of their lives or the last half. When I was younger and a romance had ended, Mama often opined, "It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

That is true, I suppose, in matters of the heart. But the same cannot be said in matters of the pocketbook.

It is better to never have had than to have lost.

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know About Faith." Sign up for her weekly newsletter at www.rondarich.com.