Changing Priorities

by Mary Norsworthy

The story is told of a conversation between a parakeet in a cage and a lark on the window sill. The lark looked in at the parakeet and asked, “What is your purpose?”

“My purpose is to eat seed,” said the parakeet.

“What for?”

“So I can be strong.”

“What for?”

“So I can sing,” answered the parakeet.

“What for?” continued the lark.

“Because when I sing, I get more seed.”

“So—you eat in order to be strong, so you can sing, so you can get seed, so you can eat?”

“Yes.”

“There is more to you than that,” the lark offered. “If you will follow me, I’ll help you find it, but you must leave your cage.”

My life seems to be a series of changing priorities. At the age of two, I lost my mother to cancer and, because of my father’s job, we were constantly moving. I spent much of my early childhood with an older boy cousin and an older tomboy sister. These became my role models. Our daily pursuits were to fish for crawdads in the nearby creek, play stickball, pretend to be Tarzan and his jungle friends. We swung from trees, scouted out old abandoned cars, and other such worthy pastimes.  During this time, a positive mother role model in my life was non-existent.

However, at about age 10 or 11, my family and I moved to a new neighborhood where a wonderful neighbor came into my life. This kind, precious lady took an active interest in me. She had a little boy of her own and was a busy homemaker, but she made a priority to always have time for me. She listened to and talked to me. She told me I was pretty and smart! She told me I could do or be anything I chose. She taught me how to do little-girl things. I adored her and wanted to be just like her when I grew up. My family moved again after a year or so, and I would never see this wonderful lady again. Today, I can no longer even tell you that kind neighbor’s name; yet now —more than 50 years later—I can tell you what a positive difference she made in my life because of her priority towards me.

At age 13, my priority was to be the best volleyball player on my school’s team. As an adult, my priority was to earn a good living, and become a good housewife and mom.

Once my children left home, I had a new priority–me!  Finally, now, I would surely have time to do all those wonderful things I never had time for before. . . art classes, travel, music, read all those classic novels in my bookcase…  Silly me—because about that time, the grandkids began coming along and, what do you know?  I had a whole new set of priorities.

The things we carry often hold clues to our priorities. Do you carry money or a favorite photo in your pocket?  How about eyeglasses?  After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, at Ford’s Theatre, the following items were found in his pockets and are now preserved in the Library of Congress. He was carrying a handkerchief, embroidered with the name of A Lincoln, a pair of reading glasses, a watch fob, a pocketknife, a lens polisher, a brown leather wallet containing only a $5 bill (which, curiously, was a confederate bill), and nine old, folded-up newspaper clippings, including several that were favorable to the president and his policies.  Two things about these items struck me – one is an outward sign of his humbleness:  the pair of reading glasses had been broken and were held together by a piece of string that is still attached to this day, and his loneliness. The assassination occurred at a time when his popularity was at its lowest. Those newspaper clippings may hold clues to his priorities at the time as they represented an outward sign of affirmation; something, I believe, we all desire but rarely receive.

How often do we find ourselves like that parakeet, so caught up in the many things we do every day that we often feel we are living in a cage? Or, perhaps more appropriately, a hamster cage, with so many activities to be done at home and work that you feel as if you’re running as fast as you can inside a wheel, inside a cage, and getting nowhere?  Is all this rush and busyness really our priority and; if not, how do we make time for the priorities of our heart?  For several years, I copyedited and proofread for family and friends simply because I so enjoyed it.  However, at the same time, I jeopardized life and limb through my daily one-hour commute through heavy Dallas traffic, where I worked as an office administrator.  So, along with my lifelong love of reading, I left that “hamster cage” and began a business of freelance copyediting and proofreading—my new priority!