January 13, 2019

A Reminder

Last Sunday I had plans: take down my outdoor Christmas tree, iron, cook, read, and write. Lots on the agenda. Instead, I ended up in a hospital emergency room with my husband who was dealing with complications from Crohn’s disease.

As you can guess, nothing I planned got done. Instead, I stayed by Raymond’s side for hours while he was poked, prodded, x-rayed, scanned, medicated, subjected to  nasogastric intubation (google it), and hospitalized for several days.

Although the situation wasn’t pleasant, it served as a powerful reminder of some important life principles.

Things change in an instant. One minute things are wonderful and the next, they’re not. You can go to bed feeling great, and at 1:30 a.m., wake up with debilitating gut pain from a bowel obstruction. You can be sitting at your desk and topple over with a heart attack or get broadsided as you go through the intersection on the way to the grocery store. Although you may be tired of hearing it, you really only have this moment. No one knows what the next one holds.

You’re not always in control. I’m a planner. Raymond is a hardcore planner who envisions worst case scenarios in order to be prepared. Life, however, doesn’t always respect your plans, and despite any notion to the contrary, there’s actually very little you can control. For example, try influencing the weather, what other people think and do, getting old, natural disasters, or the economy. Catch my drift?

Take nothing for granted. There are many things you may not truly appreciate until they’re gone: health, relationships, jobs and so forth. I admit to taking a lot of things for granted. I’m sure you do too. What you need to remember is that things can go horribly wrong in an instant so it’s important to appreciate what you have and remember that you could lose it.

There are no guarantees. Imagine never being sick or losing people you love. Wouldn’t it be great? Maybe, but it will never happen. And if life was like that, we’d end up pretty complacent. In fact, we probably wouldn’t even develop an understanding of what happiness really is because there would be no comparator. The reality is that the longer you have the good fortune to be alive, the more pain and suffering you will see and experience. That’s life.

Things could always be worse. Raymond’s being in hospital, sick and in pain, was not a pleasant experience for him or me. However, he was in a safe place being looked after by medical professionals. One hundred and fifty years ago he would be dead. He could have had this experience in a war-torn country where the hospital was blown up. His bowel could have ruptured and required emergency surgery. Yes, it was bad, but it could have been worse. That’s usually the case for most things.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. You might remember the late Richard Carlson’s book by that title. The premise of the book was to teach people how to avoid letting the little things in life drive them crazy and to calm down in the midst of life’s stresses. Dr. Carlson offered lots of wisdom like:

  • – Choose your battles wisely.
  • – When you die, your inbox won’t be empty.
  • – Make peace with imperfection.
  • – Live in the present moment.
  • – Live each day as it might be your last.

Dr. Carlson’s point is that there are lots of things that will aggravate you but most of them truly aren’t that important so save your aggravation for the big things.

I didn’t invent these lessons but I tend to forget them when life is humming along nicely. Thankfully, last week’s experience reminded me that when things are going well, it’s precisely the time to be appreciative because you just never know when that might change.