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I’ve Found My Marbles

by Roberta McReynolds

I was standing in front of the pantry, hoping some of the miscellaneous cans and packages would slide forward on the shelves under their own power. They should offer themselves up for the noon meal like little soldiers volunteering for a mission. I know this cook would deeply appreciate that kind of inspiration when planning a menu.

The dented cans and partially crushed boxes, sloppily repaired with tape, reminded me of the bargain prices I paid for damaged products. The weekly shopping trip with my husband is always satisfying when I can wave the receipt and announce how much money we saved using coupons and digging through the bin of items reduced in price due to cosmetic problems with the packaging. The lure of saving money is so great that occasionally I select things I wouldn’t normally buy. Each of these purchases seemed like a good idea at the time, of course. The difficulty lies in having a careless warehouse employee planning my menus for me.

I picked up a can of sliced carrots and wondered what possessed me to toss it in the grocery cart. The refrigerator is always stocked with a bag of fresh carrots. How long has that dusty box of instant banana cream pudding been sitting there? Oh, yes . . . I remember thinking it was vanilla when I bought it. I know I need to use this stuff up or my bargains will turn into expensive wastefulness. But what kind of meal can I create around carrots and banana cream pudding?

Before I could solve the nutritional puzzle, my husband came to tell me about an e-mail he had received. Neither of us are fans of having our mailbox clogged daily with dozens of syrupy missives instructing the recipient to pass it along to ten other people, including the person who sent it. Why a person would want to receive it again, let alone 10 more times is beyond my comprehension. The purpose appears to be so we will all remember how much we mean to each other. I realize busy schedules take a toll, but how long does it take to type, "You’ve been in my thoughts and I thought I’d just say hello," followed by a simple push of a button to send it off? I appreciate it when a sender values my time by not expecting me to wade through the same old tired, lengthy dispatch which has circled the globe repeatedly. My finger sits poised over the delete key while I search hopefully for a few personal words tucked somewhere.

I stepped off my mental soapbox and returned my attention to my husband, whose voice has managed to break through my cluttered thoughts. I confess that occasionally an e-mail stands out amongst the daily deluge and deserves consideration. This one captured Mike’s interest.

Mike relayed a story about a man, who upon learning the average life expectancy for males living in America, thought about the time he had left. Because he looked forward to weekends, he calculated how many statistically remained and came up with 1,000. I’ve done the math and that’s a little more than 19 years. How that strikes you is a matter of perspective, but the point is that our lifetime is a finite number.

Realizing this, the man went out and purchased a large transparent container and filled it with 1,000 marbles. Every weekend, he removed one marble and threw it away, reminding himself how precious time is and once gone, cannot be rolled over into ‘anytime minutes’ like a cell phone contract.

As the level of marbles visibly lowered, he found his priorities clarified and he became more conscious of the things that were most important to him. One of those was taking his wife out to dinner more frequently.

I looked down at the canned carrots still in my hand and thought this man had hit on an idea I could embrace!

Following the story, my husband whisked me away from the pantry and took me to a harvest festival. We bought a fresh apple pie and nibbled on two enormous cookies as we walked outdoors looking at the craft booths. I touched a piglet’s rubbery snout through the wire fence of the petting zoo and marveled at the strength in his little nose as he and his two siblings uprooted grass in search of something good to eat. I petted a goat which was wearing a yellow dress with large white polka-dots, learning that ‘Patty’ was hand-raised by people and is terrified of the other goats. While strolling leisurely we recognized a friend in the crowd we hadn’t seen in a very long time. We shared the latest news and exchanged hugs.

Mike pulled into a fast food restaurant on the way home to treat me to a hamburger. Two tour buses disembarked right behind us and I felt thankful our timing was so fortuitous. A minute later and we wouldn’t have found a place to sit. The meals for these Japanese travelers had been pre-ordered and drink cups distributed as they stepped off the buses. It was all quite orderly. We were so impressed that Mike took the time to compliment the fast-food employees on their professionalism and excellence with so many customers.

We had an absolutely delightful day together and would have missed out on several unique experiences if we had stayed home.

The story about the marbles haunted me throughout the next day, however. While the idea held some merit, I couldn’t imagine myself subtracting marbles from a jar. The very thought felt like watching tiny grains of sand steadily sifting through an hourglass, slipping away forever. What are you supposed to do if you are fortunate enough to exceed normal life expectancy?

I decided I’d rather start with an empty container and add a marble for every significant event throughout the day. No rules; just whatever I decide made that 24-hour period memorable, positive and worthwhile. Each evening I can gaze on the colorful glass orbs reflecting the lamplight and remember I am blessed and have much to be thankful for in my life. The action of plunking a marble into a jar provides a conscious awareness of how I’ve invested my time.

The dawning of a new day will signal me to dump out my marbles and begin again without a backward glance about how yesterday was spent, or what tomorrow may bring. Today is a gift; that’s why it’s called ‘the present’. (I admit it; I read that in one of those cutesy e-mails.)

I think I’ll take that dented can of carrots, add the leftover peas sitting in the refrigerator, and dice up some potatoes and onions for a simple vegetable soup on a cool autumn day. Then I’ll drop a marble in my jar for solving my earlier quandary in the pantry. But I’ll save the instant banana cream pudding for another menu, because tonight my husband and I will savor the last two slices of apple pie for dessert and each other’s companionship.

Plunk — plunk. That’s worth two marbles in my jar. I hope I have underestimated the number of marbles I will need.

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