It was a beautiful sunny spring day and I had just taken my nine-month-old son on a walk in his stroller.  He was a chubby, healthy, happy baby and I loved to make him giggle and gurgle. He was just getting old enough where it felt safe to let him crawl around in the grass and play around in the sandbox.  Every day was a new adventure as my little boy grew before my eyes.

When I laid him down in his crib for a nap after our trip to the park, he seemed to be acting strangely.  More than tired. Something else.

I checked in on him in an hour and he wasn’t sleeping. He was lying on his stomach just staring blankly. How very strange that he hadn’t conked out after our day in the park.  I asked him playfully why he wasn’t sleeping and he just stared.   I made a funny face to make him laugh. Nothing. I picked him up and he was like a rag doll. He was completely unresponsive to any stimulation.

My wife and I rushed him to the hospital.  The doctor looked very grave and said he suspected that my son had spinal meningitis and that they were going to do a spinal tap immediately. He took my baby from my arms and told me he would bring him back when he was “cleaned up.”

I was 27 years old.  I had been promoted three times in three years as I clawed my way up the corporate ladder. I was focused on being in the right places and meeting the right people and saying the right things to get to the next job grade. I had just bought my first home and was embroiled in a nasty lawsuit with my builder. My wife’s parents were going through a messy divorce that had cast a cloud over our daily lives.

But at that moment, all I wanted was my baby.  You could have my job. You could have my house. You could take my very life. Just give me back my little boy, safe and sound.

This story has a happy ending.  He didn’t have spinal meningitis … he didn’t have anything they could detect at all. In a few days he perked up again, the victim of some mysterious virus that never showed up again.

But that day changed everything for me.  My priorities shifted for good. I know I became a better man, husband and father after that scare.  I lived with less anxiety and fear because I knew nothing I ever faced in my life could be as bad as the moment my son was in danger.  When I face trouble in my life, I think, is it as bad as that day?  The answer has always been “no” and things settle back into perspective.

Today I see many of my young friends and students filled with the same piss and vinegar I had at that age …  life priorities determined by money, fashion, gadgets, and now, “followers.”  My wish for them, and for you, is that you don’t have to have  a life tragedy to re-set priorities.  My hope is you can just imagine what it would be like if the thing most precious to you were ripped away … then live your life with the grace, kindness, compassion and urgency of knowing that everything could change in the span of one, single heartbeat.

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