More Important Things
I spend a considerable portion of my life worrying about details and schedules, deliverables and final project statuses. There are deadlines and reviews, day jobbery and a myriad of social and professional obligations that drive me through my life. Some of these things are value added, some not. There are things I do out of social obligation that I don’t want to do, and things I’d like to do, but can’t get to them because of other priorities.
I find we frequently put our needs below the needs of others. The way we prioritize our lives is frequently not what’s best for our health: physical or mental. But we do what we think are the right things, or what we perceive is required of us to meet some unrealistic goal, some untenable position, some desperate and unyielding ideal that is beyond our reach on our best days. There will always be more work, one more #1 priority, one more deadline that is both urgent and frankly frivolous in the grand scheme of the universe.
I struggle with this a lot lately. Oh, I need to pay my mortgage and feed my family, those are not negotiable. But to do this, I expend most of my energy in pursuit of a career that I’m good at, but offers fewer and fewer rewards. I find myself on the edge of burn out and struggle with finding meaning in the trivialities I must pursue in the hope of a decent paycheck, good health insurance and (honestly) a bit of personal satisfaction. This last has waned in recent years, alas.
But, these things do not align to my greatest desire, my fondest wish and my most burning passion — my writing. Pursuing the day jobbery is a necessary evil, but given my druthers, I would be a full-time writer. I know many who feel the same.
So, in my life, I muddle along, doing what must be done and then, out of the blue, something happens that sets all of it on its collective ear.
This week we met a major milestone at work. It felt good to get back on track for a change. This just happened to coincide with the release of The Hobbit. My 22 year old son who is home from college, was supposed to take my 15 year old daughter, but he bailed late Thursday afternoon because his hip was hurting.
Knowing I could somehow manage on very little sleep (again) I agreed to take her. Of the many things in her life, my daughter is more apt to remember her father taking her to the midnight showing of a favorite movie. I had everything to gain here.
At 11:30pm, as we sat in the theater getting ready for the movie to start, I got a text from my wife. She was taking our son to the hospital. The pain in his hip had gotten to a eight or nine out of ten, and was the most pain he’s ever experienced. We were going to leave the theater, but she said to just stay for the movie and that she’d text me when she learned something concrete.
We got home at 3:15 am from the movie and went straight to bed. My daughter got up at 6:45am to go to school and I slept a bit longer, getting up for my 9am meeting which I could do from home.
In the meantime, Kathy had come home at 4:30am. They admitted Patrick for the pain, and were going to do X-Rays, ultrasound and eventually a long needle into the hip to draw out fluid. Sure enough, he had an infection, but no bone damage or anything.
I spent an hour working the next day and dropped the rest of my meetings at the insistence of my awesome manager. “Go deal with your son,” she said to me over IM. “Family is more important.”
She was right, of course. I got to the hospital at 11am. The doctor finally came by at 2pm and explained that the culture was definitely infection and that they’d be doing surgery that night at 8pm. We waited with him all day, and through the surgery, finally going home at 11:30 pm, after he was successfully awake from the anesthesia and back in a room.
Saturday I got up at 9am, went over to the doctor for a blood draw (for me) and then over to the hospital. I sat with Patrick all day. We talked, laughed, read our books in the quiet moments, listening to Jazz and just spent a long quiet afternoon being in each other’s company.
They came and got him up and walking, which was good to watch. Then we just sat until my wife and his girlfriend showed up at dinner time. Kathy and I went out to dinner, so he and his girlfriend could have some space.
It was a peaceful and wonderful day. Nothing else mattered. Work didn’t matter, book reviews, pending contracts, unknown career path or even thoughts of an unknown future faded to those quiet moments with my son.
I can still remember back twenty-two years ago holding him on my chest as we both tried to sleep in the middle of the night when he was a wee bairn. I remember the way he smelled as I held him, and the way he breathed in his sleep.
Now here he was, a grown man. Six-eight with a wild shock of hair, a beard and a laugh that makes my heart hurt. I love him beyond reckoning and here he was, glad for my company and happy to just sit together and share the best bits of the books we were reading, or discussing physics puzzles around the best ways to defend yourself during the Zombie Apocalypse.
This was my son, the budding engineer, the nerd who loves Firefly, Lord of the Rings, Rush and Fleetwood Mac. Here is the young man who I raised (with the help of my wife and my friends, of course) and he was on the mend, danger passed, on his way to a full recovery.
And the world spun on.
And in those moments I found the truth, the joy and the more important things. I just wish I could keep that feeling, that surety of what is right and pursue that. But I need a paycheck, and this novel isn’t writing itself.
But he will be fine. And that’s the most important thing.