By Kris McFalls
Time is a unit of measurement that helps describe an action or event. Everyone has access to it. The rich can have no more of it than the poor. Inflation and recession have no influence on its value. Time cannot be saved, it can only be spent. Like a one-way street, time can only move forward. And no matter how long or short your time is on Earth, your legacy will be determined by the memories you created with it.
People with a chronic illness have a heightened awareness of the importance of time. Like stones in a swiftly flowing river, my family has been shaped and refined by the currents of chronic disease. Our challenges are woven into the very fabric of our being. But like many readers have so eloquently stated, we will not be defined by disease. Rather, our lives will be defined by how we used our time and what we did in spite of disease.
One event in my life affected how I spend my time even more than the challenges of chronic disease. Two days before Christmas in 2008, I was presented with the opportunity to talk with one of my brothers for the first time in nearly two years. I could have spent that time ripping him anew for his choices and the pain he caused himself and our family and, believe me, I wanted to. Instead, I felt prompted to simply tell him, “I love you no matter what.” Those were the last words I spoke to him. Three days later, he died of a drug overdose. I have never been more grateful for that moment in time that I had with him on the phone. Since that day, I evaluate every relationship, and I ask myself if I can live with the way I left things.
Chronic diseases are challenging at best. Many of us have read the stories about people diagnosed with the same disease as us who have a miraculous recovery, and we rightfully want the same thing. Those people go on to run marathons, climb mountains and travel the world. It’s not wrong to want the same thing, but the reality is many of us won’t have the same level of recovery. And to be fair, many of us didn’t climb mountains before disease hit anyway! The real issue has nothing to do with marathons, climbing or travel; it is that we don’t want to be limited by our disease.
There is an old story that talks about planning a trip to Italy. You plan for it, dream of it and save for it. Once you’re finally on the plane, however, it lands in Holland. You know nothing about Holland and don’t want to be in Holland. However, if you spend all the time in disgust and lamenting the fact that you are not in Italy, you cannot appreciate the beauty of Holland.
I did not plan for my kids to be born with a primary immune disease. I planned a healthy and happy life. I saved for vacations, not medications. While it is important to grieve over what is lost, it is far more important to appreciate what we still have; my brother’s death taught me that. I grieved for my children’s suffering. I grieved for my brother. But then I learned to appreciate the goodness of what I still have. Immune globulin gives me what I cannot have with my brother: more time, especially with my kids. I hope that the legacy I have passed on to my kids is not one in which disease will be remembered, but one in which the time I have spent with them will be most valued.
What kind of legacy will you leave? How will you choose to spend your time?