I am not a fan of country music. I admit that I simply tolerate it because it is a genre of music and as a musician I am aware of its existence. In an ironic twist, however, one of my favourite songs is ‘The Gambler’ by Don Schlitz, made famous by Kenny Rogers over four decades ago. At first glance, it seems to be discussing the tactics of the perfect game of cards but a more in-depth look reveals a more important lesson. This song is about life, about strategies for living.
Just a few words illustrate that very point: “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” To make it in this life, there are just some things we need to know.
By being alive and choosing not to live as a hermit, I am involved in relationships; at any given point, I am involved in many relationships. I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, educator, professional, congregant and the list can go on and on. However, there comes a time when relationships must be assessed and decisions made in the best interest of the involved individuals.
I am not certain what has provoked this train of thought. Perhaps it is that Bajan tradition of reading the obituaries and seeing younger and younger persons featured therein, or perhaps it is a significant milestone looming in the not too distant future that has propelled me to take stock of my relationships. Which ones do I need to hold, which ones do I need to fold, or are there any from which I need to run?
As a doctor there are many things for which I am thankful but, believe it or not, one experience for which I am most grateful is that of experiencing the death of patients. It may seem cold and morbid but it is a staggering truth. If there is one set of professionals that should understand the frailty of life, it should be healthcare professionals. Emblazoned on the archives of my mind is an experience I had as an intern.
I had just said ‘Good morning’ to a patient, and I turned around briefly to answer a question from another member of staff. When I turned around again, the patient was dead. Let that sink in. Hushed and gone in a matter of seconds. The tears rolled down my face as the finality sank in. That very day I made a resolution. My relationships would matter. There was not enough time to waste with unnecessary baggage.
There is a particular group of individuals that possesses the uncanny ability to irritate me greatly. Whilst this irritation is not sustained neither does it occur on a daily basis, the fact of the matter is that it does occur. These people make up my family. And I know for a fact that I am not the only Barbadian who has to endure this particular malady. Be that as it may, it’s for this same group that I would give my last simply because I love them dearly. Perhaps it is because they matter so much that their actions and inactions can stoke my ire more often than any others can.
For me, friends and acquaintances were never held in the same position in my heart and I made that distinction more relevant as the years rolled on. My husband always tells everyone he improved my life from a social dot to a social circle and I unwillingly admit this is true. However, whilst I have allowed other persons into my personal space, I have kept my friends close. The thing we must do is allow those friends (and acquaintances) to know that we value them; that their presence in our lives makes a difference; that we are better individuals for having known them.
We have discussed relationships with human beings but I believe another category of relationships worth discussing is our interaction with inanimate objects. Take the cell phone for example. Are any of you ‘joined at the hip’ to your cell phones? Is it the first thing you turn to in the morning? Do you experience symptoms of withdrawal should the unthinkable happen and you leave your phone at home? Do you turn on the phone to look for messages although the message alert light is not blinking?
What about our relationships with our jobs? Do we take home work every day and spend family time balancing budgets or fine tuning that next proposal? Is the space in our brain taken up with problem-solving, mitigating losses and smoothing ruffled feathers at three in the morning? Do not get me wrong. I believe in hard work and giving of your best on the job. But when the job begins to rob you of the best years of your life, maybe you need to ‘know when to run’. I am not saying to walk off your job but more so a quick change in the way you relate to and value your source of income may be necessary.
Relationships are important and compulsory for life. Our friends and family are indispensable, not our jobs, our phones or our bank accounts. Let the important people in your life know that they are important. We should not wait until we are standing over a coffin to whisper ‘I love you’ as those words would have fallen on ‘dead ears’. In the midst of an argument, let your speech be gracious because you never know if those would be the last words a friend or relative hears from your lips.
I have pressed the pause button on some relationships, tasks and other commitments in an effort to make time for what matters most. Try it and see what happens in your life.
(Rénee Boyce is a medical doctor, a wife, a mother and a Christian, who is committed to Barbados’ development. Email:email@example.com)