This true childhood story is about the foundations of friendships, the paradox of wealth, and what money truly can never buy. And it might even help you rethink your calendar for the month ahead. This principle should also help you understand what motives us in our friendships, and what potentially motivates others in theirs...
When I was 8 years old I received the invitation of a lifetime.
And it all started, unexpectedly, with an emerald green envelope placed at our front door…
“Goran, do you know someone named Sergio?” My mom asked, after quickly opening the mysterious letter.
“Sergio?…” My young distracted brain processed the question.
This wasn’t a friend I’d had over to our house.
“…Yes mom, Sergio is the coolest kid in school. I think he’s rich or something! Everyone wants to be his friend.” I said half listening, sprawled on the floor with a GI Joe toy in hand.
A rerun of Hercules, my favourite kids cartoon, played on our massive wooden framed tube TV. Middle class Canadiana living at it’s finest.
“Well, it looks like Serigo’s invited you to his BIRTHDAY party! It’s in two weeks. And it’s at Chuck e Cheese!!”
“…where a kid can be a KID?!” I said to myself, having memorized the thousands of TV commercials reprogramming my brain.
Chuck e Cheese, the Disneyland of birthday temples for kids. The Taj Mahal of kid fun. At least, for those of us living in small city Canada.
That must be expensive: A party at Chuck e Cheese? My parents only took me to Chuck e Cheese once, but I had a small budget and couldn’t stay long. We weren’t rich. My dad worked in construction and mom was a part time waitress.
“The invite also says “Pizza, drinks and games all included!”
“REALLY?!” I jumped off the ground and began dancing like a clown.
Yes it was true.
Sergio invited little nerdy, shy me, to his fancy birthday party!
But this also made no sense. Why would Sergio invite me?!
Sergio and I were not really friends in school.
He was A list: Funny, cool, confident, and Sergio always had the coolest toys and the newest cloths and sports gear. Italian football shirts, or the latest Nike or Adidas gear. Sergio’s family was from Italy, they’d just moved over a few years earlier. And they were wealthy.
Serigo knew he was IT and where he went, others followed.
“So…do you want to go? You don’t really know Sergio? I’ve never met him or his mother.” My mom asked, with a kind of wisdom I couldn’t understand.
“Yes! Of course, it will be amazing!” I said, imagining the pizza, the prices, the toys, and something else.
Something more important than all those things…
What if, just maybe, this was Sergio’s way of saying he wanted to be friends?
Yes, that had to be it, I thought, Sergio wanted to be my friend!!!
Oh how wrong I was, about that a great many other things.
Two weeks later mom and I arrived at Chuck e Cheese for Sergio's EPIC birthday party and quickly shown to our table.
“We have our own table?” I said, never experiencing reservations before.
In our household, we always ate at home, you know, to save money.
“No, not just that table, ALL these tables.” The hostess said, gesturing to all four groups of long tables that sat twelve or more in each, side by side that said Sergio’s Birthday Party.
“Woah is there 1000 people invited?! Do we all get birthday hats? And balloons!” I shouted, grabbing a hat in delirium as my mom thanked the hostess.
“More like 40-50 people but, Yes, most guests have arrived and the kids are playing already. Would you like to join them?” The hostess said, pointing to a holy temple of Chuck e Cheese.
Forget the dozens of kids video games, or the long row of mini bowling alleys, or the carnival style basketball courts, no, the Chuck e Cheese experience was not complete without a centre piece called the the Ballzone, a small pool size wonderland of multi-coloured plastic balls that kids could jump and play in.
“YESSSS!” I shouted, grabbing my birthday hat and taking the b-line straight into the Ballzone first, where over a dozen kids were playing. I recognized a few of them.
“SERGIO!” I shouted finally spotting him and waving my hands feverishly in excitement.
But Sergio didn’t seem to notice me. Sergio didn’t wave back.
It must be all the excitement. He must be in heaven. He's busy taking care of everyone. Sergio is so awesome…
I jumped closer and shouted again. “Hi Sergio! Happy birthday! This is great! Thanks so much for inviting ME to your birthday partyyyy! This is the best birthday invite ever!” I screamed.
“Oh. Yeah. Hey.” Sergio said with less excitement. “My mom said I had to invite everyone, so, yeah. Hi. And you don’t have to shout. I'm right next to you.”
Sergio seemed annoyed.
“Oh, everyone?” I asked, confused, and no longer feeling so great.
“Yeah, our entire class. About 30 kids, and my cousins, and our neighbours, so it might be 40, plus parents. You’d have to ask my mom.”
“oh…” I said unsure of what to say next and feeling a lot less special.
“Ok I’m bored of this. I want to play video games!!” Sergio said lifting his arms in the air, towards the mess exit.
A posse of followers took their cue as they all quickly departed without a hello or goodbye.
It was as if I wasn't there.
I was left with just one or two other kids still inside, oblivious to what just happened.
Sergio didn’t care I was at his birthday?
He invited everyone?
His mom did?
I took a deep breath.
Should I even be here?
My mom, detecting something wrong with that infinite mom wisdom, encouraged me to keep playing.
This was no time to be sad.
After all, I’d always wanted go to Chuck e Cheese for a birthday party. This was my dream come true, even if Sergio didn’t really want to be friends.
“Come on Goran, let’s go play in the bowling alley. It will be fun.” My mom shouted with kindness, trying to help.
So, I decided to make the most of it, not really seeing much of Sergio or all the strangers surrounding him for the rest of the time.
Hours went by…
We ate pizza, had birthday cake, and drank copious amounts of fizzy sugary drinks.
I’d made my peace that Sergio didn’t care about becoming my friend, but decided for some reason, to stay, knowing it, this, was all a facade.
Then things really went to hell.
It was finally time for Sergio to open his gifts.
As Sergio opened gift after gift my mom and I noticed something:
Every single toy that Sergio opened was more tremendous than the next. He received Transformers, GI Joes, and entire Toy Train Sets. It was the cream of the crop in gifts - ten birthday’s worth, all in one day!
And these were not just a lot of gifts, they were expensive gifts.
Gifts, when my mom and I were shopping, we just couldn’t afford.
So, my mom and I decided on a bag of army toy soldiers. They were all green and in different fighting positions. No larger than an inch tall.
It wasn’t much, but if you were creative, you could create our own amazing battles!
As Sergio started opening OUR gift we noticed the card I’d hand written card became separated from the toy soldiers gift. Sergio wouldn’t know the gift was from us!
But before I could tell him, Sergio opened the nameless gift and immediately began to laugh.
Sergio lifted the small bag of green plastic soldiers in the air and shouted “What a cheap gift! Look!”
Silence filled the room, and then the unthinkable happened.
Sergio’s mom began to laugh in encouragement.
She then looked to her friends.
And they started to laugh
Then the children started.
And some parents did too.
Almost everyone at the birthday was laughing.
I looked at my mom, but she remained frozen in disbelief, and embarrassment.
But before we could speak, Sergio realized he couldn’t find the card. He shouted over the laughter:
“Who bought us this gift!”
Everyone shrugged their collective shoulders.
No one said a word.
It felt like a public shaming.
Of the rich over the poor.
I was overwhelmed with emotion and ran to the washroom, where, I most likely cried.
“Do you want to leave now?” My mom asked once I returned a few minutes later red faced and in shock.
“Yes please.” I said. “I want to go home.”
Despite it all, I still tried to tell Sergio that we were leaving but as usual, couldn’t get his attention.
He didn’t care.
All he cared about was his toys.
All he cared about was the fake love from his adoring fans.
Sergio and his mom were shallow and materialistic.
They were cruel and unkind.
But like all of life’s real hard lessons, and those who provide them to us, I must thank Sergio and his mother for this one:
In the end, I learned…
Know who your friends are, and keep your distance from the rest:
Good friends show you love and respect.
Good friends care about how you feel.
Good friends don’t put you down, they lift you up.
Good friends. It’s what all of us need…
..Nothing more, and nothing less…
PLUS These Timeless Principles:
The greatest wealth on this earth is the quality of our friendships. The people in our lives, that is what matters most.
What you put out in into the world - good, evil, kindness, cruelty - will all come back to you in the end, in one form, or another.
I don’t know what ever became of Sergio or his family, but I know so much more about what real friendships are today.
I know which ‘friends’ to steer clear of.
I know which ‘parties’ never to attend.
And I know never to be impressed by someone trying to impress you with their money, for those poor souls lack in wealth of mind and heart.
Something paradoxically, money can never buy…
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