Today is a strange anniversary for me. One year ago I had open heart surgery to replace my aortic valve.
I needed a replacement because of a birth defect—one I didn’t know about until I was 43 years old. With that diagnosis I was told that “someday” I would have to get the valve replaced. After a scare in July 2021, “someday” turned out to be September 8, 2021.
I’ve been through life-saving surgery before. I survived cancer in 1997, which included two operations. Despite the major surgery being minimally invasive, it was still scary. In 1997 I was 22. No one was relying on me for anything. I had my whole life ahead of me and not a care in the world… except to beat cancer.
In 2021, things were different. At 46 years old with an amazing wife, two wonderful kids, and a career that fulfilled me, I had everything to lose. Fear crept into my thoughts too frequently: would my children grow up knowing their father or just stories about him? Would I be just another blip in the cosmos?
Thankfully, the time between prognosis and surgery was short. During that time, I had one major decision to make: artificial or biological valve? Each came with their own risks and benefits. After doing our own due diligence, my wife and I chose the artificial valve. I mean, who doesn’t want to be part cyborg?!
The surgery went well. The recovery sucked. But this story isn’t about that. This story is about the valve.
The amazing thing about the artificial valve is that it clicks when it closes. It opens to let the blood out. Then… click …it closes. When it’s quiet around me, I can hear it. It’s a deep, sensory type of hearing, almost a feeling.
It’s the most wonderful thing.
It’s a constant reminder to focus on what’s truly important in life.
When the world is still, I can breathe and connect with this.
Whether my mind is racing, raging, distracted, lost in thought…
This is the part of the story where I offer you life-changing advice, isn’t it? Only, I’m not quite sure how to do that.
I can tell you that I often reflect on the fragility of life as I listen to my click. In that fragility, I connect to the vastness of humankind. All the humans that have ever lived and (at least for the near future) ever will live, all contained on this little rock spinning through spacetime, orbiting an unremarkable G-type star in a less fashionable part of the Milky Way Galaxy. In that moment, I feel deeply insignificant.
When I was younger, recovered from cancer and living in NYC, I think I also felt that fragility and insignificance. I reacted differently then. I was reckless and care-free, a consequences-be-damned risk-taker. Maybe I was leaning into life’s insignificance. Maybe I was trying to bury it, hide from it or run from it. Maybe I was just a 20-something in New York. Probably all of the above.
As a father, husband (and 40-something living in the suburbs in Colorado) my perspective is different.
Insignificant to the cosmos? Yes.
Insignificant entirely? No.
Our significance is the impact we make on others, with every click.
Whether with my wife, my children, parents, sisters, extended family or close friends, when I connect with those that I love, I can be significant to them. Even better, that it’s on a consistent basis.
When I contribute something positive to someone’s day, in that moment—in that click—I can be significant for that person. And that person is significant for me.
In these moments, in these clicks, we are significant to each other. And that gives me meaning and purpose. That reminds me to focus on what’s truly important: the difference I can make in people’s lives, whether fleeting or consistent.
In its simplest, purest form, we can give gratitude to one another. That gratitude creates significance.
It’s not a click that gives my life meaning.
It’s what I do between each one.
You don’t need a click to find meaning in your life.
But a reminder helps. My reminder…
What does yours do?