Old Patriot's Pen

Personal pontifications of an old geezer born 200 years too late.

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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

I've been everywhere That was the title of a hit country-and-western song from the late 1950's, originally sung by Hank Snow, and made famous by Johnny Cash. I resemble that! My 26-year career in the Air Force took me to more than sixty nations on five continents - sometimes only for a few minutes, other times for as long as four years at a time. In all that travel, I also managed to find the perfect partner, help rear three children, earn more than 200 hours of college credit, write more than 3000 reports, papers, documents, pamphlets, and even a handful of novels, take about 10,000 photographs, and met a huge crowd of interesting people. I use this weblog and my personal website here to document my life, and discuss my views on subjects I find interesting.

Thursday, September 30, 2004


I got this from a cousin in California the other day, and I've been thinking about it ever since. After posting C's email, I have some comments to make.

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar...and the coffee...

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous "yes."

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

"Now," said the professor, as the laughter subsided, " I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things-your God, family, your children, your health, your friends, and your favorite passions-things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, and your car. The sand is everything else-the small stuff. "If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal."

Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented.

The professor smiled. "I'm glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend."

"I believe that friends are quiet angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly."

Marilyn Anker

I spent much of last night thinking about this. It struck me that many people never fill the jar with anything - not the 'golf balls', or the 'pebbles', or the sand, or the coffee. Their jar is never full - of anything. There may be a little of this, or a little of that, but the jar's never, ever full. They go through life on the margins, never getting involved, an observer rather than an active participant. These are also the people that whine the loudest that "life is unfair". Their biggest problem is that they fail to ever fully commit themselves to anything. They're like the begger, standing at the window watching the family of a hard-working laborer enjoy their evening meal.

Other people need a larger jar - they commit themselves to anything and everything. Their life spills over. They never meet a cause not worth supporting. They throw themselves fully and completely into everything they do. They're always on the go, always supporting something or someone. Every minute of every day is filled with something. They're the extroverts in life - the person that makes you tired just watching them.

Most of us fall somewhere between these extremes. Some of us choose to commit ourselves to a few things, and work hard to excel in those areas. Others try with all their might, and fail at everything, yet never give up. The number of golf balls, the percentage of pebbles, or the amount of sand, differs for each of us as we play the cards life gives us. Our acceptance of these differences indicate whether we're happy with ourselves or not. Some people can be very happy with only minor successes, others are unhappy no matter how many successes they have. Our happiness depends on whether we set realistic goals for ourselves, and how hard we strive to reach those goals. Another important factor is whether we are willing to expend the effort necessary to reach the goals we've set. It also depends on whether or not we can learn to prioritize our goals - which are the most important, where we should devote the majority of our energy, which have a lower priority, and which can be delayed until we've succeeded at other, more lofty endeavors.

This little philosophical demonstration can also be applied to politics. It's especially apt for the current 2004 Presidential election. As election day approaches, we're treated to one candidate that has a different priority every day - a different set of golf balls. This candidate is also one that gets bogged down in the details (the sand), and who changes his approach each time the wind blows. The other candidate has a strong grasp of what he thinks are the major priorities, and what it takes to satisfy them. He also has a firm grasp of the day-to-day political pebbles and their associative needs. He's willing to delegate decision-making authority to others to deal with the sand, but knows the importance of taking time for coffee. The choice is totally unambiguous to those willing to take the time to find out how each man deals with what life has presented him.


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