Smith: A year of milestones in a too-short life

With the understanding that not all readers of this column read it each week, I am taking the liberty of recapping a few personal events from the past year.

On Dec. 21, 2011, my mother-in-law passed away. Six months later, my wife died, and a week after that, my daughter, our firstborn, graduated from UC Irvine.

September brought the death of Adrienne Kay, the mother of a dear friend, and the role model for the woman whom I married in 1987.

Jackie McGill, the mother of another dear friend, was diagnosed a few months ago with the same form of cancer that killed my father. McGill spent her Christmas convalescing in a facility not far from her home in the San Fernando Valley.

Last month, I suffered a severe injury that caused more pain than I've ever experienced.

Earlier this month, I became engaged and will be married next year.

My engagement aside, I've had enough of death, dying and sickness for one year. Though it has all worn me out, it has also reinforced my belief that most of us waste too much of the precious time we have here on Earth.

Too many of us work at jobs where our attitude could be described as "indifferent," at best. And when we are not at work, we spend too much time getting upset about someone not using their turn signal or someone taking too long in the checkout line at the supermarket or someone else who simply disagrees with us, even though they have the perfect right to do so.

We worry too about the wrong things. That over which we are powerless to change is not worth a moment of worry. And if we do have the ability to change something, I'd still argue that worrying is not the answer. Besides, worrying is very bad for our health.

I don't worry about very much anymore. Maybe the deaths and sickness in 2012 have made me numb to some of what is going on around me. If so, call them death benefits.

What is important to me now more than ever, are the people in my life and the impact I will have made on society after I am gone. About 15 years ago, I was instrumental in helping working parents spend more time with their children, which gave me great satisfaction.

My late wife and I raised two good kids, and I can only hope that they understand that leaving the world, or even the community, in better shape than when we found it, is an admirable goal. Beyond that, I have satisfaction in the impact that this column has had on at least a few readers over the years.

Now we are approaching the new year and a time for reflection and, potentially, some positive change in our lives.

I do not wish for anyone the tragedies I have faced this year. But I do wish for them the clarity they have given me, namely, the ability to understand that we are here only for a very short period of time and each day is an opportunity to thank someone, to help someone, to tell someone we are sorry or to just let the little things go, which is a gift to ourselves.

Thank you, readers, for the wonderful feedback this year. Even when you disagreed, you were thoughtful in doing so, which is a columnist's dream. May 2013 bring you good health and much happiness.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to

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