I had been at Texas A&M for six years when my wife began having serious heart issues. In September of that year, she went in for a heart procedure in hopes of addressing the problem. I almost brought her home too soon from that procedure, and I could have lost her if I did. Life took on a new clarity for me, both in its brevity and its sweetness. In a sense, our borrowed time began. 

But my clearest memory of that time was my students’ response. I remember being presented with two get-well cards for her and thanking the class for their kindness.

My TA, who had arranged for the cards, approached me after class and said, “You don’t understand.” Then she showed me this picture on her phone.

This queue was the first of two that formed on separate days to sign the card for the World’s Most Beautiful Woman (or the WMBW), as she is known to my students. I wrote a blog about it then that I simply called “The Line,” struck by how blessed I was to walk through life’s challenges in this amazing place with these special young men and women. I honestly would never be the same in the way I viewed students after that day. Nor could I ever be anything but loyal to this place through all the ups and downs of an academic career. 

My friend and pastor Brian Fisher recently said, “Some things matter, and some things don’t.” In September 2012, I gained a new clarity and focus on what really matters, and it changed the trajectory of my life and career. 

Elizabeth Holmes gained new clarity last week in a court in California. In 2015, the central focus of her life was the one thing that really mattered, and that was making her company, Theranos, a success. Then John Carreyrou of The Wall Street Journal wrote the first of several articles based on the testimony of two courageous whistleblowers that revealed the shortcuts, technology failures, and misrepresentations made by Theranos. Developing Theranos’s technology legitimately would have provided the added bonus of benefitting all of society by allowing an easy way to be tested for a litany of diseases with one very small blood sample. Doing it the way she did it, however, led not only to a documentary and a movie about the case but to an indictment and, eventually, to a conviction on four fraud charges.  

In the years that passed leading up to the trial, Ms. Holmes gave birth to her first child and is pregnant with her second. I have a friend who handed off her twin baby boys to step into federal prison, and having heard her story, I feel compassion for anyone in that situation. My thought was that the judge sentencing Ms. Holmes, especially with the quality of the legal representation that $30 million would buy, would be lenient. He was not. She was sentenced, quite mechanically based on the dollars of the damage attributed to her behavior, to 11 years and three months in prison.  

She is due to report on April 27 of next year, after the birth of her second child. Her release date, assuming an unsuccessful appeal of her conviction, would likely be sometime in 2031 or 2032. At this point, nothing matters at all except for the fact that she will miss half of her children’s childhood. 

Sam Bankman-Fried, the CEO of FTX, whose crypto kingdom crumbled earlier this month, is having a new level of clarity introduced into his life. He is in the very early stages of this process, early enough that he still seems under the delusion that he can raise additional capital sufficient to make all this go away. But the hubris of a few months ago melted quickly into a panic in the last few weeks as the truth came out about the carelessness with which he ran his operation. This “carelessness” will likely be characterized by federal prosecutors under other names, all of which are felonies. As news trickles out, it appears that his parents, both Stanford law professors, may potentially be entangled financially in his situation. I have no doubt that he will receive the best defense possible. And I cannot deny that sometimes people get away with big failures. But normally, even when the wheels of justice grind slowly, they grind. And Mr. Bankman-Fried may be about to find that out.  

This month we were told that my wife would need her eighth procedure since 2012, this time the replacement of her pacemaker, as soon as possible. We were surprised by the urgency, but we arranged for it to be done by the same doctor who had performed the other procedures in Austin. As we stepped out of the elevator at the doctor’s office last week, I checked my email and found one from my current Auditing students that simply consisted of this: 

Since I had just given them grades on their second exam, I can guarantee you that they have a good reason not to be happy with me. I did not anticipate this gift, even after my experience ten years ago. In a time of my life where I am challenged to see that my life is making a difference, I was reminded again of what really matters. 

Because, in a world where young people are struggling with self-image and purpose, where they wonder why they are here, I am surrounded by a group who step beyond those questions to love others well in their time of need. Of course, the internal motivations of these students, the way they were raised, their faith and moral convictions all contribute to their choice to step into others’ lives. 

But you cannot convince me that this happens everywhere. And, ten years later, a group of students who never saw that first blog have reminded me again why I am here. And while I would love to see my students succeed when they go out, and I would prefer a football team that was not 4-7, the genuine love we have experienced in our years at Texas A&M is what will live in our hearts in the last stage of our life. 

Because, in the end, some things matter—and some things don’t. 

Categories: Bottom Line Ethics

The songs of Simon and Garfunkel were part of the soundtrack of my youth, touching on a wide range of emotions from throughout life. I wondered how singers so young could have insights into all the stages of life, but several of their songs still strike me as remarkable. “Old Friends” spoke of two men who “sat on the park bench like bookends,” and included the haunting phrase, “How terribly strange to be seventy.” Even as an adolescent, it made me aware that I would be old one day.

The fourth song they released was called “Dangling Conversation,” about a middle-aged-or-older couple who had lost contact with one another emotionally. It was less of a hit than their first three, perhaps because it was so inward-looking, including this verse:

“And you read your Emily Dickinson

And I my Robert Frost,

And we note our place with bookmarkers

That measure what we’ve lost.

Like a poem poorly written,

We are verses out of rhythm,

Couplets out of rhyme

In syncopated time.

And the dangling conversation

And the superficial sighs

Are the borders of our lives.”

We have two chairs in our living room, side by side, where we read our versions of Dickinson and Frost—Beverly Lewis and The Wall Street Journal or, on a bad night, Facebook and Twitter. But we also have an oversized chair in the next room that we share to watch a movie or the news together. We have our dangling conversations, but they mostly resolve themselves around a bowl of popcorn or through a walk around the neighborhood.


And there are other chairs in our home, placed around an Amish table, that remind us that life is not just about those adjoining chairs in the living room, but about the investment of our lives in people. Last night we gathered again and heard the stories of students’ lives, captivated by the complexities they have lived through in their childhoods and the lives they wrestle with today. They shared tales of challenges overcome to get where they are—significant surgeries, living away from family as a teenager, even military service.


Next to me was the woman they come to see, listening intently, noting important details, and sharing insights. I often sit quietly, not just to hear the stories but to watch her deft touch with hearts. She does the same thing weekly with mothers of young children and with international students in other settings. She cooked the meal and prepared the setting that would allow them to connect with one another. And they did—while waiting for the last dinner preparations, at the table, and even standing around waiting to go out the door. I had the sense they really did not want to leave each other at the end of the night.

The dangling conversations never fully resolve in these evenings, leaving the door open to the next opportunity. That next chance to connect could happen with each other in an apartment, a classroom, or a coffee shop. Sometimes those connections continue in my office. But they were triggered by the desire of one woman to invest in others’ lives to make them richer.

I know because she has been doing the same thing for me for 45 years. And I know because of what my students have told me throughout the years. Last night, after the students left, I plopped down in my Robert Frost chair and checked my email. It contained a request from a former student for a recommendation for a PhD program. Several years ago, she had been in the exact same class that the students around the table are in this semester. After updating me on her life and talking about how helpful one of my colleagues had been in counseling her, there was this: “I hope you and Linda are both doing well. I had dinner at your home once and I’m pretty sure I had two servings of blueberry crumbles.”

My students generally know my wife only by her title, The World’s Most Beautiful Woman. I can say with confidence that this student met my wife only once. And yet she remembered not only her name, but the taste of the dessert that said to her, “You are welcome in our home.”

There may be a day when the two of us are “couplets out of rhyme,” as Simon and Garfunkel would say. There are days we live our lives in syncopated time, like any other couple. But the Dickinson and Frost chairs are not the only chairs in our house. And when the conversations dangle, I will be there, sitting by her, until they resolve.

Categories: Bottom Line Ethics


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