When a vibrant, energetic, spirited, endlessly-inquisitive seven year old boy turns morose and mopey it’s a pretty good sign that something is wrong. Being as thick-headed as I am it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what. Sure, I knew that the last few weeks have been tough. It’s been a dark, damp, cold spring. Barely springlike at all. I was knocked out with the worst head-cold-fever-chills-achy-body-sore-eyes thing that I’ve had in a long, long time. That was followed by Noah’s surgery, the diarrhea, the other boys being sick, and finally Noah getting hit with it. Yeah, it’s been a challenging stretch. Did I mention the weather’s been crap? And my reaction to such set backs – that feeling of being hopelessly behind on everything – seems to be to throw myself into “catching up”. Too bad I go about it in a hopelessly backward way.
Several months ago a close friend sent me this email. It is very likely you’ve seen it already, in which case just skip down. But if you haven’t read it…. it is worth the read.
The Mayonnaise Jar and 2 Cups of Coffee
When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee.
A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous “yes.”
The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.
“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things—your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions—and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.
The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.
The sand is everything else—the small stuff. “If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first—the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled and said, “I’m glad you asked. The coffee just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”
For some reason I like it better to think of the important things being rocks, followed by the pebbles and sand. But for the sake of continuity, I’ll call the big stuff “golf balls”.
Once we’ve been knocked out of our groove, can you guess how I try to “catch up”? I start packing in the pebbles and sand. My jar is full of the stuff and I can’t cram any golf balls in. And then my little golf balls – they all have names – get sad and weepy. Some of them are more sensitive to my sand piling than others. The eldest one was in pretty rough shape this last time. After quizzing him as to what the problem is, wondering and worrying about what is wrong, struggling to come up with a solution, berating myself for being such an obviously lousy mother, I sluggishly come around to my senses. (This usually happens after a good cry and a good pouring out of my anguish and concern to God.)
We had a fabulous day today. I woke up with a restored order of priorities and a confident optimism. The sky was blue, the breeze warm. After saying our goodbyes to Graeme and wishing him well, we headed off to visit friends. We spent a lot of time outside, with everyone thrilled to finally have a day that felt like spring. We went on a walk to a stream. We shared lunch with friends. By the time we returned home it was late afternoon. My first impulse was to get inside and start “catching up”, but I stayed myself. We didn’t go in the house until quarter to seven to drum up something to eat. We added layers to our “lasagna garden”, we dug up worms, centipedes, June bugs. Noah showed the sure signs of a happy baby – muddy knees and soil lined lips. Best of all, my old Zach was back – skipping here and there, working hard, excitedly chattering away, eyes sparkling, making plans, grinning from ear to ear.
I told him and Gabe the mayonnaise jar story. They really liked it. Zach got a kick out of the coffee part. And then he said, “Well, Mommy, today was sure a golf ball day!”