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When I saw Linda sitting on my cabin steps, my heart kind of stopped for a minute. She is pretty busy, and she wouldn’t have driven all the way up the ridge without an important reason – one that she did not feel comfortable sharing by telephone.

I got her lemonade and talked about how the heat had finally settled in, and she didn’t relax at all; her face was like granite. And my heart felt like it was made of lead.

We walked on up to the two old stumps looking down the ridge at the creek below and sat there for a minute, sipping the cool lemonade and watching the butterflies in the meadow. I hoped she wouldn’t say anything; I did not want this moment to end; I did not want to trade it for what might come next.

She looked at me and her eyes were concerned, which I had not seen before – doctors see a lot, and they tend to have a pretty decent suit of armor. But we have known each other since university.

“The test did not come out well, did it?” I had had a routine blood test done the day before; there had never been even a blink of a problem before.

She looked me straight in the eye and said, “No, it did not. The levels of creatinine were very high, and way above your baseline. This can be hallmark of kidney failure.”

She continued, “There can be other explanations, Rich. This is very important. Were you dehydrated when you took the test – extremely dehydrated? Have you been ill? Did you start an Atkins diet recently?”

“I probably was dehydrated, Linda, you know me. I had been working outside all day, and had to rush down for the appointment. So I was pretty darn dry. That must be the explanation.”

“Maybe, Rich, maybe, and I do not want to borrow trouble, but these levels are hard to attribute to dehydration, and you know your history – you are at high risk. Of course we will get you in to do more tests immediately, but I wanted to prepare you a bit.”

I just looked at her. I have known for a long time that I was at risk in this area, due to some bad things that happened to me a long time ago. I always thought I was prepared to hear bad news like this – but I wasn’t, not just yet – just give me another year or two and I will be ready.

“Well, worst case, at least we caught it early, right?”

“No, unfortunately, when we see this signature, it can be a sign of fairly advanced kidney failure. We need to look at this without delay. I want you to drink a lot of water over the weekend and come in Monday morning to repeat the blood test and do a series of other tests.”

“Gee, Linda, I was planning to go up to New Haven to see my daughter graduate. Could I come in Wednesday? I’ll be it was dehydration.”

She touched my arm and said, “Of course, go to her graduation. I am sorry to have put a cloud on the weekend. Put it out of your mind if you can, except for drinking a lot of water. And I will see you Wednesday.”

So she drove back down to the city, and I packed up my bag, pushed the cloud over into a corner of my brain, and headed off to New Haven. And I thought it over and decided a couple things.

First, I felt great. I decided to assume I was just very dehydrated and that explained the bad result. And I honestly believe that is correct. And Linda sort of agreed – she said it was best to keep an open mind for now, and see what the next tests tell us. But I think she puts the odds at better than 50% in my favor.

Second, I figured that maybe I would learn some bad news, and if so, that would certainly ruin its share of days; bad news has no trouble at all in claiming its own turf in our minds. But right now I felt fine, my middle daughter (the LAC) was graduating from college, and I was going to enjoy that moment. I was not going to let potential bad news take away turf that deserved to be in the happy camp.

And, for my kids reading this, that is an insight I want to share: give sadness and sorrow the space it deserves – it will claim that space anyway – but also give joy and happiness the space it deserves; do not let sorrow overlap into times that it does not deserve to own.

Finally, I found that I was realizing, in this new context, which things I was happy I had done, and which I felt were a waste of precious time. I cannot give my kids an absolute list; it will differ for every person. But I now was seeing with great clarity the value of each moment we are given, and how I would like to use those moments. I managed to avoid offering the usual bargain: “I will change if only I am given the chance!” But, in lieu of that attempted bargain, I made a promise to myself, a promise to treat each moment I was given – whatever the outcome – with more respect. And this is a lesson I would like my kids to think about.

Wow, this post has nothing at all to do with macroeconomics, does it? The only connection I can draw is that the great clarity that this process produced left very little room for macroeconomics or investing in my own personal list of important things.

Of course this is personal and idiosyncratic, but I would much rather turn over soapstone in the creek and marvel at is oily smoothness, rub a sassafras leave and enjoy the root beer smell, watch a colony of ants as it builds castles, wages war against other ants, hunts and forages, look at pond water under a microscope and the Pleiades through a telescope, work out some calculations on the Higgs boson decay and the potential discovery of WIMPS (candidate dark matter particles), finish my story about the gifted assassin Alonzo Bitumin, go fossil-hunting with my paleontologist daughter, take a long hike with my son - maybe along the Appalachian Trail . . . well, you get the idea. Your list may differ, but why not try to figure out what is prominent on it, and then keep that in mind as you schedule your time. Or not – it is of course entirely up to you.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I wrote this yesterday, while I was waiting for results from the second round of tests. The news was pretty good, all things considered – everything was much closer to normal, although not exactly where it should be. So Linda is going to watch carefully – I go in for more tests in a month, and there are no guarantees, but for now life reverts to normal, and the cloud is not much different than it has been for a long time.

But I have my list, and a pretty clear resolve to treat every minute with respect. And right now, that means a big cup of hot chocolate and some time out on the stump. There will be shooting stars, and satellites, and of course the great northern constellations. And, later, the Milky Way will come up, in all its grandeur and glory, 400 billion stars, overwhelming everything else in this clear mountain air. And I will wonder if there is anyone out there, anywhere in that unimaginable ocean of stars and planets, looking back at me . . . .


A Drumlin Daisy
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When Life Gives You Lemons
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