The Things that Matter

On bad days

It was late—probably 1am. I was in college, cramming for an exam the next morning that I wasn’t prepared for. Most of my friends were partying. I was exhausted. Mad at myself for not preparing ahead of time. Thinking about how I wasn’t going to get enough sleep.

And I was hungry.

I went down to our communal kitchen to make myself a sandwich. I was slicing turkey in our deli-style meat slicer, tired, mind elsewhere, feeling sorry for myself—when I cut the tip of my thumb off.

I remember looking down at the small, football-shaped disc of my thumb lying in my hand next to a slice of turkey thinking “huh, that’s probably not good.” And then the pain set in. A sharp, stinging that rushed into my hand a moment later. Blood welled up and started dripping onto the metal base of the meat-slicer.

In that moment, all my concerns about being tired, cramming for the exam, and so on suddenly felt small. Part of my thumb came off! Now my supposedly painful night of studying became a much longer night. I had to go to the campus ER, waiting for hours to see the one doctor working in the middle of the night with my hand bleeding and throbbing in pain.

I don’t remember how I did on the exam the next day.

What I do remember is the moment when, looking down at my hand, I realized that my so-called “bad night” was about to get much, much worse.

I think about this feeling a lot. Every time something unexpectedly bad happens that turns my entire day on its head. When you crash a car. When you get injured on a trail run. When your kid wakes up in the middle of the night struggling to breathe. When you find out a loved one is very sick.

These are the moments that put everything else into perspective. The moments that redefine the scale of what “having a bad day” actually means. The moments that very sharply force you to understand what really matters in your life. Your health. The people you love. And the opportunity to experience the most normal things, normally, every day.