Smith: Appreciating the little things in life

In 1998, I was invited to appear in a live debate on CNN. I had given up my successful small business to pursue a career as a writer and was asked to present the arguments for having one parent at home with the kids instead of working, which was the subject of a book I'd written.

I was trying to promote the book and I was struggling. My income had dropped to almost nothing and there was not much hope for sufficient money anytime soon.

As I walked into the studio to start the program, an aide to publisher Larry Flynt was wheeling him out. Flynt has a net worth estimated at $400 million and has been wheelchair-bound since 1978 when Joseph Paul Franklin's failed assassination attempt left him paralyzed below the waist. Flynt's wheelchair is gold-plated and is estimated to cost about $80,000.

A technical problem caused a 15-minute delay in the program, during which I was talking to the technicians and thinking about whether my prospects would be improved thanks to the appearance on CNN.

I also remember thinking that even though I had little money, given the opportunity, I would not have traded places with Flynt, even if I were single instead of married with two kids.

I thought of Flynt again because it was at this time a year ago that my late wife was about to be bedridden until her death on June 4. As bad as 1998 was, it was nothing compared to the nightmare of those final two months of Cay's life last year. But even with all our family challenges a year ago, I still would not have traded places with Flynt and I wondered whether he might actually trade places with me if he had the chance. After all, I could walk unassisted, jump rope, or run a race. With all his money, Flynt could do none of those.

I also thought of Flynt because I have a problem with my right knee, the one that required surgery to repair a torn ligament eight years ago. The problem is not so bad that I may never walk again, but I may need another surgery. Time will tell.

It's nearly impossible for those who have achieved financial success to understand just how important it is to maintain a perspective on the value of health, and to appreciate every day we can function fully without pain. Maintaining that attitude is difficult when we have all of the commitments of a job, perhaps a family, and possibly some duties as a caregiver. Others have homes to maintain or obligations as volunteers to charities.

For many of these people, it takes a sudden event to help them understand what they have misunderstood for so long. It is only when we cannot walk, to use an earlier example, that we appreciate sidewalks or the feel of the surf on our feet — little things to which we would have paid no attention at all.

We are all facing a limited amount of time on earth and no one knows exactly how long they'll be around. That point was brought home to me last year and as a result, I have spent far less time concerning myself with the trivial, which is mostly what we face everyday.

I have paid far more attention to my health and am happy to report that last year I lost almost 30 pounds.

My knee will be OK. I am a little grateful that the knee bothers me because it served as a reminder that no amount of money is greater than good health.

Many years ago, a friend born in Armenia told me of a saying there: "Good health is like a crown. You can't see it, but you know it's there, and you sure do miss it when it when it's gone."

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

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