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Thursday, April 17, 2014

What Really Matters

Time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters.

When we are young, we tend to focus on the material things in life, on getting ahead, on buying our first house or a new car. In my case, and with others I know, age has brought an increased emphasis on giving back, on helping those in need, on sharing my blessings with others, and on simplifying my life a bit.

I don't intend to live in poverty or to become a hermit. I live in a nice house and I drive a good car. But amassing more material things is not of any importance to me. Recently, I took 20 books to the local 'friends of the library' group to sell. I delivered bags of clothing to a local animal rescue group's thrift store.When I visit a new country, I'm not interested in buying knick-knacks to sit on a shelf and collect dust. The best mementos of my visit are my photographs and memories, along with the occasional coffee cup, which I use for my morning cup of tea.

And as I get older, the finite nature of life begins to hit home more forcefully as well. We can lose those we love in the blink of an eye -- a car accident or disease can snatch people from us in an instant. I recently learned of the passing of a member of my extended family (the wife of my brother-in-law's brother) who was only in her 50s. I often hear about someone who died at an age younger than I now am. And my dog was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor last fall. Watching the tumor cause her to have seizures and some loss of coordination is difficult. But knowing that she is reaching the end of her life also has caused me to be more patient with her and to cherish our remaining time even more than I previously did. I also appreciate that as a dog, she doesn't know what lies ahead and she therefore has no fear of death.

Of course, I  also see the physical changes in myself -- the gray hair, the slower recovery from strenuous work or exercise, the age spots. These changes -- not sudden by any means -- have prompted me to take better care of myself and to get the periodic check-ups, vaccinations and tests recommended by medical professionals.

I can't stop the march of time; all I can do is to maximize whatever time I have left. I can focus on the people and things that matter most. I can pick my battles and the things that frustrate or upset me. I can focus on the big picture and let the little things go. I can spend more time doing the things I most enjoy, such as travel and photography.

After all is said and done, the little things won't matter anyway. What will matter is the difference I hope to make during my short time on earth, the people who were touched by my presence, the causes I may have helped and the lessons I taught.

Just maybe, if more people focus on the things that really matter, this world will become a happier and better place for all.