When my kids were young, I developed a game. I called it the “three-to-five-year game.”
It’s simple. Just imagine your child as three years older. Then do it again as five years older. Each time I would play this little game with myself, I would see the stage of life my child was in at the time in a totally different light. The toddler would transform in my mind to a second grader; the boy asking for a new bike would turn into the young man with his hand out waiting for the car keys. Even the sassy teenager would bring flashes of a young adult packing her room to leave home.
Then I would ask myself, “What do I want to instill in them, or do with them, before that happens?” It’s amazing what just a little perspective can do.
Tragedy also has that effect on us.
When given a terminal diagnosis, in essence you are given information that most of us don’t have. A more exact accounting for the number of days you have left. You are forced to play the three-to-five-year game, but someone else set the parameters, and you’re now playing for keeps.
Viktor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, recounts the story of two women. To the first, he asked her age. To which she answered, “Thirty.” “No, you are not thirty but instead eighty and lying on your deathbed. And now you are looking back on your life, a life which was childless but full of financial success and social prestige.” He then invited her to imagine what it would feel like in that situation.