“The cost of a thing is the amount of life
which is required to be exchanged for it.” –Henry David Thoreau
In 2020, the average life expectancy of a North American woman was 84, and for a man, 80. For teens that must sound like an eternity, for those in middle years, perhaps a little concerning, and for those of us in our final chapter, it is simply too close for comfort. For me, I regard it as an invitation; to live my best life, to take more risks, to waste less time.
A glance into the corner of my living space reveals a stack of marbles, about 1138 to be exact. These marbles represent the number of Saturdays I have left to live if I make it to 84. I turned 62 at the end of July, so my stack is dwindling. If you are not familiar with the original marble story, here’s a condensed version of Jeffrey Davis’s, 1000 Marbles. It was written as a modern-day parable about discovering and appreciating life’s finite nature. The story represents a fictional conversation between two amateur radio ham operators* who find each other over the airwaves, one Saturday morning. Their discussion focuses on how they spend most of their week, the younger one working far more than the usual 40 hours, and the retiree, with plenty of time on his hands, who explains his theory of a ‘thousand marbles’; multiplying the number of weeks the average person lives in a year minus his current age, identifying how many Saturdays he has left to enjoy. By watching the marbles reduce (taking one out each Saturday), our older storyteller chooses to focus, each week, on the most important things in life. The idea of watching the days run out, literally with marbles, motivates him to spend what time he has left, even more wisely.
So, for many years now, I have been removing a marble every Saturday morning, and reflecting on my week; considering how I spent my time and who I spent it with. I lean into any regrets and celebrate how much time I gave to what matters most. And while I don’t count how many marbles are left, I do count my blessings; expressing gratitude to help me remain present, focusing on the day and the forthcoming week, rather than the time already spent and lost forever.
This past Saturday, I took out another marble while considering the week that just passed; I contemplated my engagement with nature, how I fueled my body, what I did that nourished my soul. I asked myself, did I spend time with people I care about, work on what matters most, make even a small difference to the planet and those around me? And then I moved on, clear in my intention for another week and free to step forward into the next seven days, hoping it’s worth another marble.
*Amateur radio or ham radio is a form of communication that uses radio frequencies rather than the internet and began in the late 19th century