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Home > Blog > 5 Balls
Out of Our Minds
Thursday, July 01, 2004 2:36 PM
5 Balls
Rebecca Ryan on Life

If you're keeping track -- and I know some of you do -- you've noticed that my regular blogs have been, well, irregular while I've tended to my dad's illness.

Well, Dad took his last walk two weeks ago. In his last days, I learned a very valuable lesson -- the Five Balls - from a turbo-cool hospice nurse named Kelly. Here's how it went down:

A few days before my dad passed, I was grilling Kelly to learn EXACTLY when my dad would pass. His death was imminent, but I had already canceled or rescheduled so much work; I didn't want this to be a false alarm. Kelly candidly but gently advised that it would be just a couple of days. Then she looked straight into me and said:

“Rebecca, I'm going to share with you my philosophy of life. Each of us is given five balls. One is rubber and four are glass. The rubber ball is work. If you drop it, it will always bounce back. The other four glass balls are family, friends, health and integrity. If you drop them, they are shattered. They won't bounce back.'


I write this blog as a woman who derives a good bit of her esteem from the rubber ball. I work hard, and I love it. Then something comes between you and that rubber ball. In my case, it was my dad's passing. When the rubber ball is taken out of play, what's left? How well do we manage our glass balls?\n\nEven more, I realize that our family, health and friends often happen TO us. There's little we can do to change circumstances around a parent's death, a divorce, or diagnosis of a life-changing disease. But Integrity is what we bring to the event. We can control and manage our integrity.\n\nWhen teabags are met with hot water, they don't break. They have integrity. Rather than contract, they expand and release their full flavor.\n\nHaving Integrity -- that final glass ball - means keeping our word, acting in alignment with our deepest held principles, telling our truth, and doing our very best in each moment.\n\nWorthwhile readers, I wish you great success in valuing and managing ALL five of the balls you've been given.\n


12 comments

squeaky1388 - 7/29/2004 6:14:34 PM
where does the story of the 5 balls come from? I know it is in a book by james patterson, suzanna's diary to nicholas. But who said it first.
Melanie - 7/28/2004 11:02:10 AM
Rebecca, my condolences on the loss of your father. May his memory always be a blessing to you. And in your grief, thank you for sharing with us some moving words of wisdom. I've printed out your post and will keep it in my work bag to refer to when those balls start looking like they're coming crashing down on my head.
And Eileen, I am so glad you had such an understanding boss. I was in a similar situation years ago with a loved one's sudden and serious illness. While I was gone, I found out the boss was talking about me behind my back saying I shouldn't be gone because this was 'just a boyfriend' who was sick. Well, that boyfriend is now my husband, so I knew MY priorities!
TJ - 7/8/2004 9:23:41 AM
This post could not be more timely. Thank you for the glimpses of your juggling. Peace to you in the midst
Stu Cowan - 7/2/2004 7:00:23 PM
Dear Rebecca, You're on the money about the Integrity ball -- it is the one we really can control. On my home office bulletin board I have a reminder -- 'tell your truth' -- and I'm glad to hear it from you in this wonderful post. On the same board I also remind myself to 'see -- be vigilant' . . . to 'give thanks -- appreciate'. . . and to 'show my heart.' Are these things part of our Integrity, our wholeness, too? I am apparently need reminders, for behind me Avery Fisher (whose memorial I attended) reminds me to commit, to give back, and to love my work. More dimensions of Integrity?

Thank you for sharing your pain with the world; I personally love the way the world comes back to you, with its pain and learning, whenever someone is courageous enough to do that. I lost my 84-year-old uncle yesterday; he is with my parents now, and his beloved dog, Terry, I hope. I know this is a hard time for you. Be patient with yourself and you need not worry. Your dad is safe, and you have all the Integrity you need to carry you through. Blessings, Stu
Stu Cowan - 7/2/2004 6:59:07 PM
Dear Rebecca, You're on the money about the Integrity ball -- it is the one we really can control. On my home office bulletin board I have a reminder -- 'tell your truth' -- and I'm glad to hear it from you in this wonderful post. On the same board I also remind myself to 'see -- be vigilant' . . . to 'give thanks -- appreciate'. . . and to 'show my heart.' Are these things part of our Integrity, our wholeness, too? I am apparently need reminders, for behind me Avery Fisher (whose memorial I attended) reminds me to commit, to give back, and to love my work. More dimensions of Integrity?

Thank you for sharing your pain with the world; I personally love the way the world comes back to you, with its pain and learning, whenever someone is courageous enough to do that. I lost my 84-year-old uncle yesterday; he is with my parents now, and his beloved dog, Terry, I hope. I know this is a hard time for you. Be patient with yourself and you need not worry. Your dad is safe, and you have all the Integrity you need to carry you through. Blessings, Stu
Halley Suitt - 7/2/2004 1:37:42 PM
Thank you. H
Curt Rosengren - 7/2/2004 1:08:14 PM
Wow. Just wow. Thanks for sharing that Rebecca.

I'm truly sorry to hear that you're going through this challenging time, but I appreciate this gift of insight that came out of it.

Peace.
Eric McNew - 7/2/2004 7:57:16 AM
My deepest sympathy to you. My dad (asbestosis) and mom (pancreatic cancer) both died within 10 months of each other (in 2003) so I can feel your pain. I'm glad you had hospice. They were truly the only way myself and my sister could have made it though. They are special people working for a special organization.
Ken Schafer - 7/2/2004 7:33:46 AM
I extend my condolences as well. Death of a parent is always an incredibly emotional time.

I've seen this 'five balls' meme a few times recently. A bit of googling makes me think it comes from 'Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas' by James Patterson.

I'm not sure if the metaphor is original to that book, but as a recent bestseller, I think it is the reason the concept is getting so much play right now.
Randy Berlin - 7/1/2004 6:14:27 PM
Fantastic post. with your permission I will use the 5 ball scenario in future conversations.

for Anita, I think your true friends understand your schedule and should be there when the 15 hr days go away.
Eileen - 7/1/2004 4:25:04 PM
My condolences to you on the passing of your father. My congratulations to you for being there for yourself and your father.

Seven years ago my mom had a life-altering stroke, for her and those who love her. At the time, I was working on a small, documentary crew in a competitve work environment.

When I got the news, I left work immediately to drive across two states to be there. I kept in touch with the office and returned to work a week later after Mom was out of ICU.

With tight deadlines and a high-profile project, the buzz in the office was audible. One person even pointed out that I'd been gone for a week, as if I had abandoned the project for a vacation.

My boss, the Peabody-award winning director, took me into his office. He said, 'There are movies and there is life. Life is more important.' He told me to do what I needed to do, I had his support.

To this day, I am grateful to this man for the life lesson he gave me: Work can wait, Life can't. I'm still awed by the generosity of this man to share his wisdom and give me the freedom to live the moment as it unfolded.

anita - 7/1/2004 2:59:29 PM
R,

Great post! And welcome back.

Everything you and Kelly say is true, but I've been struggling with another side of the same coin. Recently, I told many of my closest friends that I was going to be a terrible friend for a while. Right now, creating Worthwhile magazine is all-consuming. Like any start-up, it's a 15 hour a day job and at the end of every day, you're still left with a dozen or more top priorities on your to-do list. Coupled with that, I have a child to tend to and all the issues of dealing with being a single homeowner. It's about all I can handle right now. So, I have dropped the ball in some friendship areas. It seems right now I have about 30 minutes a day that are not committed; I recall another life lesson/story: on an airplane, you always put the oxygen mask on yourself first. So I tend to spend those minutes, when I could be being a more attentive friend, walking my dogs instead.

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