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a hand dropping a heart into a jar filled with rocks and sand.

Sand Vs Rocks: Filling In the Jar

Many years ago, I was working as a production manager on a commercial. The producer on that project was a micromanager who had a seemingly endless list of tiny details she was concerned about. Trying to handle all of those details with the urgency she desired was making it impossible for me to take care of the important aspects of putting a film shoot together. So I took her aside and explained the situation to her in the following terms.

Explaining my frustration

If you have a jar that you are going to fill up, it has limited space. You know that you absolutely must fit a certain number of large rocks into that jar. There is also a fair amount of sand that you want to fit in with those bigger rocks. If you make the mistake of filling the jar with sand first, those large rocks will never fit. But if you put the rocks in first, the sand has an amazing way of filling in around the rocks.

When I explained my predicament to the producer this way, she understood that she needed to let me focus more on the big picture. The job was successfully completed, with most of the sand she desired filtering down between the stones that needed to be there, and the experience is now largely forgotten. But the analogy remains relevant for me, and I have used it innumerable times since. Having to deal with lung cancer treatment over the past three-odd years, I have found that I view quite a lot in terms of sand versus rocks.

A new outlook

Since my diagnosis, life has been easily viewed as a smaller jar. Every day is precious and although there is so much that I want to cram into my jar, I am always keenly aware of my responsibilities. Just as it had been before I began treatment, life is also filled with distractions, infinite grains of sand vying for my attention. But where I used to feel okay playing in the sand whenever I felt like it, now I take pause and weigh the quality of each activity.

And a strange thing happened: some things that used to seem like sand have solidified into major rocks. Those little moments with my child where she has created yet another of her comic books, for instance. It occurs to me that the interaction between us, the moment where I read the text aloud while she explains the picture, is going to leave a more lasting impression upon both our lives than whether or not I get the laundry sorted or the papers on my desk filed.

Taking time to enjoy the small stuff

I cannot say that the filing of my papers is completely trivial — indeed, it falls into that category of rocks that I need to get into my jar whether or not I enjoy the process. But I am learning to take more satisfaction in depositing such rocks, while also ensuring I have more time to enjoy rolling others around before leaving them in the jar.

And then the sand, searching out the most sparkly and fine grains to sift through my fingers, can sprinkle in between every crevice. These, too, are moments that matter, however small, and I have taken to choosing them more wisely. Whether my jar continues to get smaller, or if some surprise treatment option allows it to expand, I am happy knowing that the big rocks are there, secure: there are my medical bills and treatment options, the mortgage, food on the table, family obligations, and something of a plan for when I am gone. There are also the memories, the tokens of a life well spent, the bonds that are forged between friends and loved ones.

Appreciating the beauty around me

And sifting down between all of that, there are glorious moments of beauty, shining joy, and all of the happiness that we can manage.

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on October 21, 2018, Jeffrey Poehlmann passed away. Jeffrey’s advocacy efforts and writing continue to reach many. He will be deeply missed.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.