I heard a story the other day about an older guy giving a younger guy advice.
He told the young guy about how 20 years or so earlier he had decided that he would stop taking his weekends for granted. He felt he had spent years wasting his days on sleeping until the afternoon, watching television the rest of the day and eventually falling asleep in his recliner with a beer in his hand. He felt there was something wrong with that picture, and decided to do something about it.
So he bought a bunch of marbles.
He grabbed an old glass jar from his garage and poured a ton of marbles in – one marble for each Saturday he had left in his life. He was 55 at the time, and assumed he had about 20 years worth of Saturdays left – about 1040 marbles in total.
Every Saturday from that day on, he’d start his day by going downstairs to his garage. He’d grab one of the marbles and carry it with him throughout the day, and at the end of the day he’d throw it away. He said it reminded him that this particular day in his life would never come again.
He was telling this guy this story because on that day, he had picked the last marble out of jar. His eyes welled up a bit as he thought about the 20 years of Saturdays that had come and gone, and how dramatically different they were than the ones that proceeded them. How each one had a sense of urgency, of intention. How each was an opportunity to make his life a little bit better, the lives of his loved ones a little bit better.
He told the young man that he felt so fortunate, not only that he had been able to experience all those Saturdays, but that he’d been given more than he had planned. He said every single Saturday after this one was a gift, and his heart was filled with gratitude.
As he walked away from the young man, he told him to remember to number your days.
The story has stuck with me because for 27 years I’ve coasted. The activities I’ve engaged in, the ways I’ve spent my time have been almost entirely devoid of this kind of intention. They’ve lacked this kind of gratitude. They’ve never had the urgency that comes with the realization that you’re never going to get that day back.
My typical Saturday is a lot like that old man, minus the recliner and the beer and the TV. I sleep in, I maybe do a couple chores around the house, I pretend to work on my computer, I go eat at some nice restaurant I don’t really need to go to and eat way more food than I should, stopping only once my stomach is upset. Then I come home and go to bed.
One could argue that such a routine is perfectly normal, that there’s nothing wrong with it. After all, I have plenty more Saturdays left. But if the next 10 years are anything like the last 10, those Saturdays will blow by in a blink. From what I’ve heard, things only speed up as you get older.
But even if I did have an endless supply of Saturdays left, that wouldn’t change the point. I have a worldview that says that we’re here for a reason, to do something worthwhile, to make our world a better place.
But it’s a worldview that resides in my head and in conversations over dinner and on this website, and rarely if ever finds its way into the daily routine of my life. My life is about convenience, about making people think I’m talented and funny, and about having enough money to take care of myself and my wife.
It’s not a life that is marked by the passion I claim to have. And I think the key to changing that has an awful lot to do with that guy and his marbles.
I need to learn to number my days, to treat each one with the respect and the focus and the intentionality it deserves. Because the old man was right – each day is a gift, and for me to waste one being lazy and gluttonous and selfish is unacceptable.
I have 2491 marbles left. Let’s hope I use them more wisely than the first 1400.