Several years ago I was visiting Rio Tinto to discuss a leadership development course I was designing for them. Before I left their mine site, I visited the gift shop and purchased a little souvenir for each of my kids. I knew Mitch loved gold, so I got him a little water vial filled with tiny flakes of a gold-like material. I remember handing it to Mitch only to see his eyes grow big and his smile even bigger. After admiring it for a while, I followed him to his room where he carefully placed it in his nightstand drawer, among his other treasures. His room, untouched since the day of his passing, still contains all the things he held dear, just the way he left them.

It wasn’t many months later Mitch came to my office with a serious look on his face. In his hand was the little vial of gold and a big question, “Dad, how much do you think I could sell this gold for?” My first instinct was to chuckle a little because it was such a cute question. I refrained. I could tell Mitch had something on his mind and when asked, he said he wanted to sell his gold so he could purchase a new Game Boy he had been saving up for. Unaware I purchased the souvenir for around $10, Mitch thought the gold was real and that it might be worth millions. I love the innocence of children.

I told Mitch that my little souvenir was only a symbol of gold, not real gold itself. I apologized that he thought it was worth more than it was. I could tell he felt a little deflated and that his youthful imagination got the best of him. I then got on my knees and looked him in the eyes and said, “Mitch, I have an idea. Why don’t I buy that gold from you, but you keep it safe for me?” As I handed him $50 he smiled and nodded with a faint look of relief that his treasure had at least little value. 

I gave Mitch a big hug and told him how sweet I thought he was. I said, “Mitch, do you know what is worth more than all the gold on earth?” With his innocent, tender eyes, he shook his head as if to say no. “You, my son. You are worth more than all the treasures that have been or ever will be on earth. I would give up everything I own to have you in my life. I would sell the clothes off my back to keep you, and keep you safe.” I then pointed to his vial of fake gold and told him, “Even if that was real gold … even if our home was made of the rarest gold … you are worth infinitely more than that.” 

I knew it wasn’t possible for Mitch to understand the depth of my love; for a child cannot know the love of a parent … they can only feel an infinitesimally small portion of that love. And though he didn’t understand how much I loved him, I know he felt my love in every way a young child can. 

I have never forgotten that exchange with Mitch. Since then I have thought often about life’s greatest treasures. They aren’t the things I can buy with money. In fact, I have discovered, the very things I can buy get in the way of life’s greatest treasures. 

So, as I’ve been contemplating my life treasures this weekend, I stumbled into this photo of my mother and Mitch and just wept. This is my treasure. This is my family. 

It’s my mother’s birthday today and I have a little something to say: thank you, mom for being so good to my son – you always made him feel special, like he was the only one. 

When I think of life’s greatest treasures, a lot can come to mind. The things we work so hard to purchase, and sometimes lose our souls to find. We mine the earth and till the ground, to harvest earth’s great bounty. Some choose spend their lives with drunken eyes in pursuit of things, forever they are counting. If I’m not careful, I too, can lose my mind; forgetting heaven’s promise, “seek and ye shall find.” We can waste our days chasing things of little worth; you know, the things we gather up but cannot leave this earth. Or, we can stop the madness and maybe catch our breath … long enough to awaken and remember things are only things, and to love a soul is best. So when I see this photo of my mother and my son; generations apart, yet full of love and having fun … I remember family is my greatest treasure, worth more than anything I could possibly measure.