“Mom, I know you haven’t been able to provide me with much – I remember the homemade sword you cut for me – but, you know what? You’ve been able to give me the most important thing – you believed in me.” This, from my 7-yr-old son, brimming with pride after winning a free-throw shoot out against most of his peers. Why is it that our children can teach us so much and yet we are the ones with all the life experience?

He didn’t develop this concept on his own; after all he’s only seven. But, he did completely absorb it after an earlier conversation where I pointed out to him that the most important thing to do in life is to believe in you. You see, he had a peer in this contest who really intimidated him with his basketball skills. Those skills, and the fact that the boy also had a dad he could brag about, really proved to be almost too much for my son. He’d begun to opt out of sports because he felt smaller than this boy in every way. So, I’d begun, months ago, nightly talks about what makes up a person and how you prove yourself in life. I’d put this small-town world of 2nd-grade basketball into perspective for him.

That night, the two of us sitting snuggled under his covers, admiring his trophy, I knew he’d gotten the message. He’d practiced, worked hard, and learned that he was just as good as any other kid, no matter how much money they had or what their dad did. He’d learned that the true measure of any person comes from within and that in order to take stock you have to first believe in your own abilities. Once you feel that power, there is nothing that can stop you from becoming what you want to be.

I’ve been thinking about this connection between my son and me a lot and how it gives him strength. Curiously, his conversation with his father about it was one sentence, his dad congratulating him and the discussion moving on. Yet, with mom, it was an entire evening of celebrating; milkshakes with grandma, a little tomfoolery, and finally a long discussion before bedtime, trophy in hand. Whatever the reason for the difference, I thank God that I am here to be the celebrator with him and to share with him such valuable life lessons.

Hell, I’m just glad to be here. I’ve had a few of my own life lessons recently. I’ve always been one to push myself and test my limits. Certainly, I’ve never thought I did it foolishly or with any kind of extremism. After all, I’m a chicken on the ski slopes, wouldn’t jump out of a plane or bungee jump for all the gold in China, and won’t even watch scary movies. So when I say limits, I mean my own inherent limits and those are very different from the world of competitive athletes or thrill seekers. I guess I feel like the last time I ever pushed myself to extremes physically was when I ran a marathon at age 30. The rest of what I do, or have done, has been merely to survive and to provide for my young family.

So I’ve always been baffled when others remark on my inability to slow down. Most recently, this past summer, I had a guy I was dating dump me, saying, “You give everything 100%,” he said, “You just are full-on. It’s too much,” he summarized. Earlier, when I’d begun to date him and told my bike-riding pals about him, one surmised, “Well, hopefully he’ll slow you down.” I was caught off-guard by the first remark from my pal and completely knocked off my feet by the conclusion the guy I was dating drew. I shrugged them both off, figuring if the guy didn’t get me it was his loss, I was 45-years-old for Pete’s sake, how could I really be full-on about anything anymore?

Well, about a month ago, my body joined this choir of voices, trumping them all by simply shutting down. “Your right carotid artery is completely blocked,” the doctor in Lewistown said looking at me in awe, “It seems you’ve pulled through the worst of it.” A couple days later, in Billings, the neurologist confirmed the findings, indicating the blockage was near my brain stem and completely inoperable. He was clearly impressed that the only damage I had to show for my stroke was a droopy eyelid.  I don’t enjoy recalling any of how this might have happened, or what I went through, so I’m departing this train of thought immediately.

Essentially, my life hangs by the thread of a ¼” tablet, provided to me by the pharmaceutical industry, a blood thinner known as “Coumadin.” It is that which keeps my plasma thin enough to pass safely through what remains of my dissected carotid artery without stroking out. For the first time in my life, I understand so many things from so many different perspectives. For one thing, I understand what it must be to be old. For the past few weeks I’ve been sitting here, watching the world go by at what seems break-neck speed. Only those who know me and care about me pause long enough to give their regards and keep on moving. I am lucky, I am alive. Eerily, it also gives a sense of what it is to be gone. You finally see with clarity the impact of your life, the number of lives you really interconnect with and the necessity for the rest of the world to continue in your absence.

Mostly, though, it gives you the gift of grasping onto every single moment tenaciously with nothing but faith and love in your heart. So that those moments, like sitting in bed with my son the other night, become greater than they once were, filled with an importance and a very clear understanding of how fleeting they are. So, this day, this moment, I thank God for all those lives that have become woven into mine and my families. I also want to remind all of you to slow down and remember that each moment is special. Treasure them all, especially those you share with the ones you love.

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