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Dimes for Dollars

Have you ever made a deal in which you later regretted? Andre-Francois Raffray did. In a real estate arrangement that was very common in France, Raffray agreed to buy Jeanne Calment's four-room apartment in Arles, France using the French system of viager, or "for life." Raffray, a notary public, agreed to pay Calment the equivalent of $500 a month and allow her to live in the apartment until her death. He, then, would own the apartment outright when she died.

It certainly seemed like a good deal when it was struck in 1965. Mrs. Calment was, after all, 90 years-old. I mean, how long could she last? The 46 year-old Raffray might get the valuable property for dimes on the dollar.

Andre-Francois Raffray, 77, died of cancer at his home in Arles on Christmas Day, 1995, having paid Mrs. Calment more than $180,000, more than three times the value of the apartment. Meanwhile, Mrs. Calment feasted on roast duck at a banquet in honor of her 120' birthday, hosted by the mayor of Arles. Mrs. Calment joked that, "God must have forgotten about me". She would die two years later, in 1997, at the age of 122.

Open-ended arrangements can turn out badly. Ask anyone who ever made an arrangement with the Evil One. The payments just go on and on and on and on...

Someone hurts you. Purposefully. So you plant the root of bitterness intending to munch on its tasty fruit for a week or so. Then having justly fed your hurt and anger, you'll pull up the root and go about your business. Your anger is delicious. The bargain looks good. After all, how long can your bitterness last? But the root has grown and now refuses to budge.

You feed a habit. Even though this habit makes you feel bad, you keep after it. After all, you can stop anytime you want. And you will. Later. Not a lot later. Just later. You've made a bargain. You'll get dollars of pleasure for just dimes of guilt. You're only going to serve this habit for a little while. It's not like it's going to take over your life. Really!

You may be surprised to learn that Mr. Raffray's heirs were legally bound to continuing paying Mrs. Calment. You see, the bargain was for the rest of her life, not his.

Be careful about bargains. Our arrangements with the Devil himself can make Raffray look like a world-class negotiator. The debt of pain, anger and dysfunctional behavior can be passed on to our children.

So, before you plant the root or feed the habit, remember that the odds of getting dollars of pleasure for dimes of guilt are not in your favor.

For His Cause,
Tim Woodward