In the Bible, John the Baptist uses the image of needing to separate the wheat from the chaff, to determine who is worthy of heaven or not. The phrase has evolved in a more secular way to mean that it’s important to separate what is good or necessary from what is not. But this is what so many of us struggle with. In this complex, 24/7 go-go culture, with stimuli coming from everywhere, it’s not so easy.
That’s what I thought until my son got really sick last weekend. In the blink of an eye, my normally healthy 12 year-old, went from happily playing to doubled over in pain. Within two hours of his very first hint of pain, he couldn’t even walk. My athletic, energetic boy was crawling to the door, until my husband picked him up like a baby and carried him to the car. Less than four hours after we arrived at Boston Children’s Hospital, surgery had begun. Two hours later and well after midnight, the surgery was successfully completed. I’ve never felt so relieved that it was over and he was safe.
But a funny thing happen; things started to become crystal clear for me. I had been struggling for some time to clarify who my friends were, making excuses for the “busy” friends who never call. But in a crisis, it all makes sense. People either show up or they don’t. My parents, who are amazing, dropped everything and drove down to stay with me and help out for four days and nights, since my husband needed to fly to Japan on business for a week. My friend Lorraine called me at the hospital and asked what she could do. Did I want a visitor? Could her son, who is my son’s friend, get homework? He ended up enlisting most of the 7th grade in making cards, even though many middle schoolers feel that they are past the card-making days. But my son got homemade card after card from girls and boys, with drawings, jokes, funny sports clippings, science puzzles, and effusive lines like “We miss you so much!” Every day he read them and I’m sure it’s why he is healing so well.
In addition, my friend Ann texted her husband to come visit us in the hospital and he cheered us up by explaining exactly what they do in an appendectomy. My friend Meghan emailed a number of times and asked what she could do, and later in the middle of her two weeks of “service” as a doctor on call in the hospital– which is 24/7 work– she picked up a balloon and card and had her son drop it off, to my son’s delight. My friend Alysa called and emailed and offered to pick up groceries. Val contacted me, even though her son had had a liver transplant only weeks before, to check in. Leslie came by with her son with cookies and funny stories. Heena and her son came by with a cute card and a much-needed visit. Both Alison and Joel sent sweet texts. My friend Carol called and emailed and we caught up by phone. Riya and Hattie sent nice emails. Paula emailed her concern and followed up a few times. And teachers emailed their concerns and best wishes.
The best thing about a crisis is it really does help you to separate the wheat from the chaff. All these friends, some of whom I am closer to than others, were the wheat, the healthy part that is nurturing. But some sadly ended up showing themselves to be the chaff, including one “friend” from college who, in spite of my trying to connect with him for the past 6 weeks, well before my son’s incident, just couldn’t be bothered to return my emails or calls. When I finally texted, after my son’s surgery, he responded with a promise to connect the next day, which never happened. Before, I had been fretting that maybe I should take this personally. But after my son’s surgery, it was clear as day, that this was not about me. This was his problem and I was needing to move on. I no longer had time for the chaff in my life.
And there were other things this week. Spending joyful time with my parents matters, while catching up on bills can wait. Snuggling my kids matters, but cleaning up my messy office can wait. Watching a good movie or a funny show matters, but responding to all 130 emails like I had a gun to my head, just doesn’t work for me. Most people will just have to wait. Spending time outside in this glorious fall weather? Yes please. Spending one more second wondering why a non-friend doesn’t call? Nope.
To find your world stage, remember that your time and energy are precious. None of us knows when we could go from fine to doubled over in pain, needing surgery. Seize the healthy days you have and when crisis does come, as it does for all of us, remember to separate the wheat from the chaff. You’ll see that it’s really easy to do when you focus truly on what matters.