In the end, the only thing that will matter is everything.
Note: this was written in early 2014. Dad passed away in August 2014.
In the end, the only thing that will matter is everything. I came to this conclusion in May of 2012. But, it wasn’t until my dad asked me to help save his life did I understand the depth of what that conclusion actually meant: everything matters.
A Chip Off the Old Hip
Recently, dad was diagnosed with a life threatening immune system disease called haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH). Yes, it’s one of those diseases: just as complicated to understand it as it is to say it. Have you ever experienced receiving a shocking diagnosis for a strange and rare disease? If yes, then you know how dad felt. No? Then maybe you know how my family and me felt when we heard the news. The confusion was two-fold: what the hell is that and how the hell did he get it?
So what is HLH? In layman’s terms it means that the immune systems runs hot all the time; it is always over-worked. When it is over-worked it starts to eat its own red and white blood cells. This leaves the infected person susceptible to viruses and infections. It is as if your immune system is double-crossing you.
How does one get it? Well, usually it only affects young children. The chances of someone dad’s age getting it (he is 68 years old) are one in two-million. How he got it is still unknown. It is either shit-dumb luck that he did get it or some medical mystery that the docs haven’t figured out yet.
For the past eight months dad has been getting out-patient chemo treatments two times a week. In addition to that he has been taking a cocktail of prescribed drugs. This program helps regulate his immune system and prevent his health from deteriorating further. It is scary how quickly the extreme becomes the norm. At first the thought of such a regimen is unthinkable. Once you realize that this new norm is necessary to live, the regimen becomes second nature. The chemo and drugs have helped, but this is just a treatment, not a cure-all.
Dad needs a bone marrow transplant in order to become a survivor of and not a victim to this disease. The doctors started the search for a match back in October 2013. The best kind of match is a sibling: siblings share the DNA of both parents. Both of dad’s sisters have already passed on, so they are out. The word-wide donor database showed that there were three near perfect matches for dad: one each in Israel and South America (the whereabouts for both men are unknown) and one in Spain (now deceased).
So, what next? Or, in this case, who next? Who is the next best match for a bone marrow transplant after a sibling and a stranger? You guessed it: children. The reason why children are a next-best match is that each kid has 50% of the dad’s DNA and 50% of the mom’s DNA. In dad’s case, each of his two kids (my sister and I) are a 50% match.
I am dad’s bone marrow donor. In May, dad and I will go into the hospital to see if we can clean this mess up. I am very happy that I am the one that can help him. He gave me life and now I have the opportunity to help him have his. Because it is me that is donating, this makes dad feel that much more confident that things will work out. That being said, this story is not guaranteed a happy ending. The chance of his survival using my bone marrow hovers around 40–50%. No pressure, right?
Due to this illness, dad has had to make a series of important decisions. One of which was to take early retirement (he planned on retiring at 70). Dad has worked as the CEO at the same company in the same New Hampshire town for forty-five years. He has had impacted many lives. He has been a champion of the community. By all accounts he has had a very successful career.
The local paper got wind of his forced retirement and ran a feature article on his situation. You can read that article online here. It was this article that forced the penny to drop: everything matters.
The Sum of Parts
Dad’s article read like a professional eulogy. The article was glowing. It was filled with many testimonials, highlights and wisdom. It talked about dad’s turning points and crossroads. He was called a visionary. As good as the article (rightly) made him out to be in the eyes of his co-workers and the community, he was an even better man at home.
Even if the reporter wanted to he wouldn’t have been able to list all of dad’s accomplishments in one article, let alone one column. What the author had to do was emphasize dad’s total impact — the aggregate of his accomplishments. There was no other way to express all of the individual things dad accomplished in his career other than to express them as everything.
Herein lies the point: life is a sum of its parts. It may not be easy to see this as you are living it, but in life, everything — every little thing — matters. Everything builds to the one true outcome. It is the one thing that everyone talks about. It is the one thing that everyone seeks to understand: his or her purpose in life.
Dad always joked that “saving the world” was his purpose in life. In reality, though not as dramatic, that was true. So what does he do now that his career is over? How does he look back on it and determine whether he fulfilled his purpose or not? How does he measure his impact? There is only one way to do that: in aggregate.
I first read about “measuring in aggregate” in Clayton Christensen’s book, How Will You Measure Your Life. The book was based on an article written by Clayton Christensen in the Harvard Business Review. The book was co-authored by Christensen and two others: Karen Dillon and James Allworth. The book’s premise was that everyone has an opportunity to, ” live a life with a powerful purpose — to ensure they are successful not just in their careers, but in their lives as well.”
I won’t get into the deep appreciation that I have for this book right here and now — but know this: it is the best business/life/self-awareness book that I have ever read, and I have read a lot of them. I highly recommend that you check it out. There are a great many lessons to learn from it.
For my money the real lesson to be learned from the book was in the epilogue. It was here that Christensen talked about his purpose in life and how he determined it. It wasn’t just his purpose he talked about though; he talked about his “likeness” and the “metric” he would use to measure his life. This was revelatory for me.
His metric was wrapped up in the aggregate. He said (I am paraphrasing) that at the end of your life, in order to understand if you achieved your purpose, you had to view your accomplishments in aggregate — the big picture — as a sum of parts. It isn’t whether or not the aggregate is the most accurate way to measure success — it isn’t. It is the best that we humans, with limited capacities of the mind, can do.
My Positive lasting Impact
I needed to tell this story about my dad to make the point clear — that everything matters. Once you understand your purpose in life you understand that every choice you make, every decision you take to support it, every interaction you have — matters. If you deny that, if you stray from that thinking, then you miss out on an opportunity to live a purposeful life and create and lasting impact in the world.
Yes, we can’t be perfect all the time — and shouldn’t try to be — but we need to follow our guiding principles to be the best we can be, consistently. In the end when you look back on your life you will realize that you cannot remember each individual moment that you were true to your purpose. You will realize that the only way to reflect on these moments it to remember all of them — everything.
After reading Christensen’s book I spent a lot of time trying to understand my purpose in life. After much reflection and introspection I understood what it was and always had been: I am a man who is dedicated to having a positive lasting impact on others that inspires them to be better. For me to understand this is to understand why everything I do matters.
I know for a fact that dad is thinking back on his life, thinking about all the people he had an impact on, thinking back as to whether or not he has lived up to his purpose. If the article that was written about him is any indication as to whether or not he measured up, it is safe to say that he did.
Soon enough I am going to have the. opportunity to make one hell of a positive lasting impact: to help save someone’s life. In late May I am scheduled to have my bone marrow harvested for dad’s transplant (harvested sounds so damned creepy). If it works, he should continue to lead the healthy life he was living before all this HLH business started.
My dad is a good man and I am proud to be his son. A number of people who have read his article say the same thing to me: “now I understand how you got be who you are.” If the qualities that people admire in him are ones that people recognized in me, then I am proud of that, too.
What Goes Around, Comes Around
Ain’t it the truth. This is such a crazy situation. My dad has a rare, life-threatening disease. He has been forced into retirement two years earlier than he planned. He needs a bone marrow transplant to help him live the long life that he always envisioned … and I am the donor. It’s a hell of a lot to absorb and it has all happened so fast.
The way I look at my role in this is that I am doing this on behalf of my mom and my sister, on behalf of all of his friends, on behalf of all the people he has worked with and on behalf of all of the lives he has worked so hard to improve. This is my way of saying thanks from all of us for all that he has done for us — for everything.