Time to prioritize in wake of disaster

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 2, 2005

An acquaintance and I compared notes not long ago about events that forced us to take a fresh look at our lives.

He had recently survived a heart attack. There was nothing in his appearance (he’s slim and fit), family history or medical examinations to warn that he was a candidate. His physician said that if he had not been in such good physical condition, he probably would have died.

The attack came suddenly, without warning.

Email newsletter signup

It has been a little more than four years since an angry looking mole appeared on my back. It turned out to be a melanoma. Like my acquaintance, I was fortunate. The cancer had not spread. Even so, I still have periodic visits with the doctor to check for a recurrence.

My acquaintance and I are like many others who have come face to face with their own mortality. The experience left us with changed perspectives and different ideas on how we should spend the time that we more fully realize is a gift.

I wonder whether these brushes with mortality hasten a process that is already at work in many people. It had always been a puzzle to me why older people, who presumably have fewer years left on earth, often display more patience than those who are younger. Perhaps years, like life-threatening situations, encourage a greater examination of what is truly important.

I don’t know how it will be with my acquaintance; his experience is more recent than mine.

It will be, I suspect, rather like my own. After a while, it becomes easy to forget how crystal clear our values became. I sometimes find that I am getting angry over matters that are of no lasting importance or I am beginning to obsess over the trivial, things I have said I would not do.

I have to remind myself of those decisions I made about what was important and how I would spend my energies and worries. Thus far I have been able to remember clearly the days when I was making those judgments.

In the past week or so, we have all gotten a more removed lesson in mortality and in what is important. We have seen how in a matter of hours some lives can be lost and others changed in ways they might never have suspected.

Most of us, I suspect, spent more time than usual last week with the television on, mesmerized by the force of Hurricane Katrina. The suffering we have seen unfold before us has made our own problems seem so small.

We have told ourselves to complain no more about such things as the electricity going out for a while or about the price of a gallon of gasoline.

We meant it when we said it, but in time the events that triggered our vows become more remote, and we become again what we were.

To a large degree, that is to be expected.

It might be enlightening, though, to stop occasionally and recall what we thought was important in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

Bill Brown can be contacted at 377 Quail Hollow Drive, Dadeville AL 36853 or by e-mail at williambrown1@charter.net

(c)2005 William B. Brown