‘This time last year…’

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut

It has been a week of remembering. Many of my conversations have begun with “this time last year…”

This time last year, I thought I had the flu … This time last year, I was on my way to ER … This time last year, I was having emergency surgery, in kidney failure, kids flying in and, finally: This time last year a vision of my father encouraged me to hang on, to come back to the land of the living.

Life has changed since “this time last year.” Physically, some, but emotionally and spiritually, dramatically.

I had breakfast this week with a friend who had her own, “this time last year” story. She left the doctor’s office with a diagnosis of breast cancer and, this time last year, had a double mastectomy. Our experiences were both similar and very different, but we both have lived this year with the same mantra: Coming face-to-face with an immediate mortality changes you.

I would like to expound that I am a better person, but I’m not sure I want to open up that dialogue for discussion! I can unequivocally tell you three truths about me that were not true “this time last year.”

No. 1: I am crystal clear about what matters the most to me: Family and close friends. They have always meant a lot to me, but never to the extent they do today. I consider the well-being and happiness of my family in every decision I make, every challenge I face and every path I chose to traverse. Whether it is cousins, nephews, children or grandchildren, I crave time with them and will move heaven and earth to get it.

My career has always been important to me, and it still is. There have been times when I pushed it ahead of family and of friends. I don’t apologize for that, nor do I think it is always a bad thing. Life isn’t black-and-white and what needs the attention and time today isn’t going to be the same tomorrow. There was a time when the joke, “never saw a headstone that said I wish I had another day at work” wasn’t true for me. Going to work was a loving passion.

But “this time last year,” it was my love for family that brought me back and gave me the will to fight hard.

No. 2, I am grateful. I am seriously in awe of modern medicine and of being blessed enough to benefit from some of the best doctors in the world. Every day means something to me. Little aches, annoying limitations and changes that weren’t part of my life “this time last year” do not weigh on my mind. I am appreciative for what I can do. I am thankful for each new sunrise.

No. 3, I am calm. I have comforted myself and kept my self-esteem up through these many years by telling myself that my sometimes spastic personality and my insistence that things unfold according to my own well-constructed plan was because I was “passionate.” Don’t want to discuss the merits of that either, but believe me when I say it is all water under the bridge. I challenge you to find anyone more willing and happy to roll with the punches – with a smile on my face – than I am. I still have some moments, but, 90 percent of the time, I take what comes and move on. Lemons-to-lemonade, c’est la vie and the Serenity prayer have replaced passionate explosiveness.

The Serenity prayer, by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, is more than what we oft hear quoted. Looking back at “this time last year,” it seems a perfect prayer for me – and perhaps for you – today:

God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;

Enjoying one moment at a time;

accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;

taking, as He did, this sinful world

as it is, not as I would have it;

trusting that He will make all things right

if I surrender to His Will;

that I may be reasonably happy in this life

and supremely happy with Him

forever in the next.



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