What a Lost Passport Taught Me About What’s Really Important

I write this while sitting on the couch in a Residence Inn outside of Washington, DC watching a Soprano Rerun and eating bad Chinese food.

 
This is not where I’m supposed to be. I’m supposed to be at a beautiful resort in Cancun with my husband, our three sons, one son’s fiancee, and one son’s “I hope-she’ll-eventually-be-the-fiancee” girlfriend celebrating my 50th birthday.

I decided to do this trip and bring the tribe along because this family is the best thing I’ve ever done. I  could think of nothing better to celebrate  my half century mark than giving a gift to the people I love most in the world to thank them for the gift they’ve given me.

Then last evening, while pulling everything together for the trip, I couldn’t find my passport. I’d used it to renew my driver’s license last week, and as ID at the hotel where we stayed for Christmas. And now it was gone.

We tore the house apart. Nothing. The hotel couldn’t find it. It had vanished. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so powerless in my life.

The kids and husband left early this morning for Mexico. And I tried as hard as I could to find a way to handle this.

I think I found it.

I realized that while missing this week with my family would be a horrible disappointment, it’s so far down the list of “worst things” that it doesn’t even rate half  a star. Why? Because no matter what happens, the worst hasn’t happened. The worst is getting sick. And, (knock wood and I hope I’m not tempting the gods) so far everyone in my family is healthy.

To put it simply, nothing else matters.

That’s not to say that I didn’t spend quite a few hours today sobbing on the couch. But then I thought about a friend of mine and his 50th birthday present: myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). It’s a disease that attacks the bone marrow and spits out dysfunctional blood cells like sunflower seeds. He’s had about eight or nine bone marrow biopsies in the past year and will undergo a bone marrow transplant after the holidays.

I also thought about my cousin. Her breast cancer recurred about nine years ago. Metastatic. Yet she just turned 66, is doing great, feels great, looks great, and every time another cancer cell rears its hideous head, her incredible doctors put her on a different drug or do a bit of surgery. She just got back from two weeks in the Dominican Republic, if that tells you anything about her strength and the miracles of modern medicine.

I also thought about a good friend of mine who has a son with  significant mental health issues. I wrote about her here.

And my former neighbor, who makes his living building fences but whose knees are so shot that he can barely walk, let alone heft 50 pounds of lumber.

So  in the grand scheme of things, I thought, what is the big deal if I missed one vacation? I work hard, I make decent money, I have other vacations planned. What I kept thinking (between crying jags) was how much worse it could be.

But I also think about how much worse it could be for my friends and my cousin–if we didn’t have bone marrow transplants that promise a cure for MDS; or highly targeted drugs that have moved the needle on metastatic breast cancer from months to years; or good therapists and drugs that can help heal the mind; or knee transplants that can end pain and restore function in a month. Yeah, our healthcare system sucks most of the time, but at times it can really shine.

So, I realized today that I am really very lucky.

(And if the agency my son located can really get me my passport by 3 p.m. tomorrow so I can board a 6 a.m. flight to Cancun Saturday morning, then I am really, really, really lucky!)

Have a wonderful, healthy New Year, and may you usher in 2013 surrounded by those you love.

 

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