Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Getting Your Priorities Straight by Cory Farley

This powerful article first appeared in the December 1983 issue of Family Focus, the Family House newsletter, and it's still relevant today.

    Let the lawn go unmowed. Put the sprinkler on the tomatoes instead of watering them by hand, or leave them to wither. Let that last bit of work wait until Monday, and get home on time tonight. There are things that are important and things that aren't, and it's time you figured out the difference.
    This burst of philosophy, sappy as it may sound coming out of the blue like this, has been painfully learned: I've spent much of the last three weeks prowling the pediatric ward at Moffitt Hospital in San Francisco, and I've come home with an awareness of mortality I didn't have even in Vietnam.
    I was there- this is only to forestall speculation, not to beat my breast in public- because my wife and I learned early this month that our 2-year old son has leukemia. Just a few years ago, that was a death sentence. Now the five-year survival rate is about 70 percent, and many of those cases are presumed cured. Matt's getting good treatment, and we're optimistic he'll do well.
    But the things I've seen since June 2 have changed the way I will live the rest of my life.
    I wish no one else ever had to endure a month like this, or the years of treatment we pray are still to come. But the fact is that your chances are the same as ours were- 1 in 23,000 for leukemia; higher or lower for other catastrophes. And if I can pass along what I've learned, it may help those who have to face these tragedies- as well as those who don't.
    On balance, I think I'm about as good a father as I can be. Like everybody else, I sometimes cut the grass when my son wants to go fishing or watch football when he wants to play it. But I've also skipped parties to take him on picnics and gone to work at 6 in the morning so I could play with him in the evenings instead of working late.
    And we've been lucky, in a way. We've met parents this month who won't get a second chance. Kids get brain tumors, they get aplastic anemia, they're run over by cars and burned in fires and they go for rides with nice strangers. To some of their parents, a 70 percent chance of survival looks like immortality.
    Here's something to think about. Of all those people, not one expected ever to be pacing the halls of Moffitt Hospital, not any more than I did; no more than you do.
    Four weeks ago I thought- as you probably do- that the most serious "disaster" we'd face would be mumps, or maybe a broken leg. Leukemia was what happened to those kids you read about occasionally who get a trip to Disneyland courtesy of some local service club. But families like yours and mine- careful with prenatal nutrition, adamant about proper diet (Matt had never had a soft drink until we had to force fluids in the hospital), safety-conscious- bad things don't happen to us.
    Wrong: They do. Not just cancer, but all kinds of tragedies. And not just to kids, but to adults as well. My chance of being killed in a car crash, which I never even think about, is statistically five times greater than Matt's was of developing leukemia. You probably don't worry much about accidents at home, but there are twice as many fatalities in the home each year as there are new cases of leukemia.
    The point of this is not to scare you, but to urge you to look at your life. If you knew you had a 30 percent chance of dying in the next five years, or that one of your kids did, would you do all the niggling things you should do, or the things you want to do? Would you cut the lawn this weekend, or go to the park and fly a kite? Paint the bathroom or take a picnic lunch to Lake Tahoe?
    But, you say, we're all healthy, and the house is a mess.
    Why should that make a difference? In 20 years, your kids aren't going to remember if the kitchen floor was shiny. But they'll remember you had time to push them on the swings.

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