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01.01.09

A Tough Year, an Empty Jar—and a Life Lesson from Roger Ailes

As difficult as the times may be, there’s an awful lot we have to be thankful for.

I keep a jar of life on my desk.

This is so sappy it may get me thrown off Blog Island. Alas, it’s New Year’s and a time for cheerful thinking and a dose of sap.

A few years ago, I heard a story about Roger Ailes. He was stuck with a friend of mine at La Guardia Airport. And not happy about it. He’d recently fathered a child at a rather ripe age, and he stopped for a moment and roughly calculated how many days he might actually be around to share the majesty of his treasure. And he determined that of those limited days left, he’d rather not spend another one at La Guardia.

Every day, I take out one of those beads and reflect for just a few moments. I contemplate that each bead represents a day in my life.

Which got me to thinking. I almost lost my wife to cancer. And as hellish an experience as that was, it taught us to value every single day. And we’re in love again like we were in our 20s. More recently, this past year, I lost my father and watched helplessly as my youngest daughter lost her two best friends, whom she could not have loved more deeply, both to tragic accidents.

So my thinking was, “Man, how often does the wisdom have to get passed down through the ages, or how many tragedies do we have to experience to fully appreciate the simple idea that we shouldn’t take life for granted? That we should value and cherish every lucky damn moment we have on this irrational planet?”

I decided I needed a reminder. So, like Ailes, I roughly calculated my life span and number of days I might have left, considering family history.

And it came out to something like 10,680 days if I’m lucky and live to an average age. So, I went out and bought 10,680 small beads. I put them in a large jar on my desk. And next to the jar full of beads, I put an empty jar.

Every day, I take out one of those beads and reflect for just a few moments. I contemplate that each bead represents a day in my life. And I look at the big jar and get a sense of how many more beads I have left. And then I place the bead into the other jar, which has begun to fill up. And the more the empty jar fills up, the more precious each bead becomes.

Sappy, no question. But it works.

Because a day never goes by that I don’t think about how great it is that I get to be in this movie called life. And that I have an incredible family. And wonderful friends. And a job I enjoy. Or a job, period.

And some day, if I’m really lucky, the empty jar will be full, and the original jar empty. And I’ll reverse the action and realize that I’m truly blessed and getting some extra credit days.

So, my wish for all Daily Beast readers for 2009 is that you find your own version of the jar of life to remind you that as difficult as the times may be, there’s an awful lot we have to be thankful for each and every blessed day.

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, causes, and individuals, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono. McKinnon is co-chair of Arts & Labs, a collaboration between technology and creative communities that have embraced today’s rich internet environment to deliver innovative and creative digital products to consumers.