1000 Marbles



“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:”    
Ecclesiastes 3:1

One of the things that has always interested me is learning (or perhaps re-learning) what I call “lessons of life.”     Several years ago, having just battled cancer, I came across this story that resonated with me.  There is nothing quite like having a potentially fatal disease to cause you to focus on your priorities. The following story is not original with me and it is one of my favorites:

“The older I get, the more I enjoy Saturday mornings. Perhaps it’s the quiet solitude that comes from being the first one to rise, or maybe it’s the unbounded joy of not having to be at work.  Either way, the first few hours of a Saturday morning is most enjoyable.   A few weeks ago, I was shuffling toward my basement with a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and the morning paper in the other.

What began as a typical Saturday morning, turned into one of those lessons that life seems to hand you from time to time. Let me tell you about it.  I am a ham radio buff and I enjoy listening to random conversations from time to time, particularly on Saturday mornings.  This morning, I turned the dial-up into the phone portion of the band on my ham radio in order to listen to the Saturday morning swap chat.  You never know who is on the line, or, for that matter, where they are.  Along the way, I came across an older sounding chap with a tremendous signal and a golden voice.

You know the kind; he sounded like he should be in the broadcasting business. He was telling whomever he was talking with about “a thousand marbles.”  The conversation intrigued me so I stopped to listen to what he had to say.

“Well, Tom, it sure sounds like you are busy with your job.  I’m sure they pay you well but it’s a shame you have to be away from home and your family so much. Hard to believe a young fellow should have to work sixty or seventy hours a week to make ends meet. Too bad you missed your daughter’s dance recital.”

He continued, “Let me tell you something Tom, something that has helped me keep a good perspective on my own priorities.”And that’s when he began to explain his theory of a “thousand marbles.”

“You see, I sat down one day and did a little arithmetic. The average person lives about seventy-five years. I know, some live more and some live less, but on average, folks live about seventy-five years. Now then, I multiplied 75 times 52 and I came up with 3900, which is the number of Saturdays that the average person has in their entire lifetime. Now, stick with me Tom, I’m getting to the important part.”

“It took me until I was fifty-five years old to think about all this in any detail”; he went on, “and by that time I had lived through over twenty-eight hundred Saturdays. I got to thinking that if I lived to be seventy-five, I only had about a thousand of them left to enjoy.”

“So I went to a toy store and bought every single marble they had. I ended up having to visit three toy stores to round up 1000 marbles. I took them home and put them inside of a large, clear plastic container right here in the sack next to my gear.”

“Every Saturday since then, I have taken one marble out and thrown it away. I found that by watching the marbles diminish, I focused more on the really important things in life. There is nothing like watching your time here on this earth run out to help get your priorities straight.”

“Now let me tell you one last thing before I sign-off with you and take my lovely wife out for breakfast. This morning, I took the very last marble out of the container. I figure that if I make it until next Saturday then I have been given a little extra time. And the one thing we can all use is a little more time.”

“It was nice to meet you, Tom, I hope you spend more time with your family, and I hope to meet you again here on the [ham radio] band. 75 year Old Man, this is K9NZQ, clear and going QRT, good morning!” You could have heard a pin drop on the band when this fellow signed off. I guess he gave us all a lot to think about.

I had planned to work on the antenna that morning, and then I was going to meet up with a few hams to work on the next club newsletter. Instead, I went upstairs and woke my wife up with a kiss. “Come on honey, I’m taking you and the kids to breakfast.” “What brought this on?” she asked with a smile.

“Oh, nothing special, it’s just been a long time since we spent a Saturday together with the kids. Hey, can we stop at a toy store while we’re out?

“Sure”, she replied, “but what do you want to buy?”

“I need to buy some marbles….”

So our challenge here is clear.  We have a finite amount of time on earth, and if we don’t remind ourself of that on a regular basis, we often can miss doing something really important like spending time with those you love the most.  After all, we only have a limited number of “Saturdays” left.  If you have trouble with your priorities, you might consider getting your own stash of 1000 marbles as a reminder.

Bill Mann








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