Big Rocks

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about something from Peyton’s cancer years that affects me still to this day.  It is an insight I cannot help but be grateful for, and I believe Peyton is too.  Simply put, it is this -- hardships make us realize that time is precious, and that we should do our best not to waste it.

Steven Covey uses an analogy of rocks of various sizes to represent our priorities. There are big rocks and smaller rocks, and each of them takes up space in the jar that represents our lives. According to Covey, if you fill your jar (life) with too many small rocks (lesser priorities), you will have no space left for the big ones, therefore the big ones need to go in first. All too often we give priority to lesser things in life, and find ourselves out of space - time and energy - for the most important things.

When Peyton was diagnosed, I was in the middle of a competitive tennis season. I spent a lot of time in practices and games, and these small rocks (my time and attention to tennis) took up a lot of space in my jar. The day of Peyton’s diagnosis, the tennis rocks came out of my jar and got tossed way out of sight. Being with Peyton and helping him through his illness was the biggest rock, and any lesser important rocks had to go.

Peyton’s treatment taught me how vitally precious the space in our jar is. It is a finite resource, and there are too many rocks, too many things competing for that space. One thing I know for sure is that when we put first in the jar the things of greatest value in our life, we will always have a sense of peace that our life is not being wasted.

A friend recently reminded me of the beautiful words of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr, which I think defines this way of living:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

Peyton and I have had many conversations about what we have come to know because of his experience with cancer.  We talk about what we are doing and what we will do with the time and energy we’ve been so graciously given.

One of my favorite examples of how trials can focus a person’s attention on their priorities is in the survivors of the Titanic. They watched from small boats, as people all around them drowned one by one. They were forever changed by this. I’ve read some of their remarkable stories of what many of them did, like Margaret (Molly) Brown and how she helped raise funds for both the families of those who died and for the impoverished survivors of the Titanic. It’s been well-documented that many of the survivors contributed their share of goodwill to the world, engaged in their lives more purposefully after that horrific experience.

One of my favorite scenes in all of cinema – one that sums up what I’m trying to express with big rocks and living more purposefully – is in the movie Titanic, when an elderly Rose travels on a ship with the crew that are exploring the area where the Titanic sank. In the middle of the night, she takes the 45-carat Blue Diamond that was given to her long ago on the Titanic and walks barefoot to the side of the ship deck and with a smile on her face, lets the big, weighty rock slip from her fingers into the ocean.

Jessica ArmstrongJess is Peyton’s mom and co-founder of Peyton’s Potion. She is a Life Story journal writer and storyteller. Jess has been keeping journals from a young age. Her journal entries throughout Peyton’s cancer treatment were also posted regularly on
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