“Not all storms come into your life to create chaos. Some storms come into your life to clear the path.” — Diane Clemens
One of the great privileges of being a journalist is the opportunity to meet people at critical times in their lives — when there’s a terrible tragedy, or a great victory, or a shocking development. As host of The Perfect Scam, I usually talk with people at a real low point: They’ve recently discovered the “love” of their life has stolen their life savings, or that an “IRS agent” was really an imposter, or that last-ditch cancer treatment was really a fraud. These moments are horrifying, but occasionally, they are also clarifying. I am constantly in awe of the courage people show by telling me their story, in all its gory detail, all in the hope that someone else might avoid their terrible fate. It’s an incredible gift; a rare act of selflessness. And occasionally, one surprising benefit for the victim is the emergence of real, deep wisdom.
That’s what I found talking with Tom and Dianne Clemens recently. They’re a retired couple outside St. Louis, both former professors, who spent decades “serving” young adults — their word. A few years ago, right after retirement, Diane was diagnosed with breast cancer. Aggressive treatment gave life back to her, and then the couple seemed to enjoy the forced isolation of Covid-19. Tom picked up the fiddle; Diane caught up on shows and “Facetimed” with their daughter and grandchild in San Diego. Then one day, their computer was attacked. It started making a horrible noise, not unlike a fire alarm that makes you want to run out of a building. Diane called the number on the screen and was told the couple’s bank accounts were at risk. Thus began an odyssey that resulted in six or seven calls a day from “consultants,” all coaching the couple on how to “protect” their money. That was interrupted by the awful news that Diane’s cancer had returned.
Within a few weeks, Tom and Diane found themselves in a parking lot, handing over boxes of $30,000 or $40,000 to people they thought were experts who worked for bank security.
By the time the nightmare was over, all $600,000 the couple had saved for retirement — two lifetimes full of labor — had been stolen.
And yet, facing all that, both Diane and Tom shared so many beautiful moments with me — so much wisdom that I feel lucky to have met them. And their daughter, Erika, herself a giver — she works at a newborn intensive care unit — was so supportive and loving to both of them, you’ll really cheat yourself if you don’t listen to her. She spends her life helping families in the most tense situation possible, so she is up to the task. “You can’t bullshit a baby,” she told me. Our conversation is full of lovely nuggets like that.
It was Diane who told me she’s hanging onto the mantra: “Some storms come into your life to clear the path.” The couple still has a modest pension. So they will survive this crime. They have to cut out many of their plans — trips, home improvements, dinners with friends. But they’ll make it. After all, Diane’s health takes top priority now. And thanks to a summer spent with their 6-year-old grandson, they’re really too busy to do anything but live in the moment.