“If it don’t bleed, it ain’t worth worrying about.”

“If it don’t bleed, it ain’t worth worrying about.”


A crusty old guy told me that decades ago. Not much bled in my life back then, and I spent my time worrying about things that weren’t worth worrying about.


Career. Friends. Possessions. What my boss really thought about me. Getting ahead. Relationships. I worried about the superficial stuff, my life uninterrupted by a single drop of blood.


That good advice didn’t have much relevance to a single guy in his late 20s, careening from job to job, in good health.


As the decades have gone by, however, I’ve recalled that advice many times, as the things worth worrying about, the ones that bleed, have rudely interrupted the pretty good party that I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy.


Couple weeks ago, a neighbor up in the mountains showed up at my cabin. Three years ago, we sat on my porch and he asked if there were any lots for sale up there. I told him about one with a nice view of the Medicine Bow River, and darned if he didn’t go take a look, stop at the owner’s cabin, and write him a check. (All without saying a word to his wife back home.)


He’s building a place with a heck of a view, but I was shocked to hear that over the winter, he was diagnosed with a serious disease. He’s in his early 60s, and thanking his stars that he retired early. These days, he’s hiring help to do the work he thought he would be able to do himself.


We got an ugly surprise earlier this year, when we learned that an old friend – a  Kansas farmer who made a new career turning beautiful wooden bowls on a lathe, true works of art – had died of cancer. They didn’t tell anyone, because he didn’t want sympathy. I remember him telling me he decided on the shape of his bowls by holding a fan belt up to the sun, and studying the shadow it cast on his driveway.


I figured he’d be creating those beautiful, inlaid bowls, turned from exotic wood, for years to come, selling them at art shows all over the country.


A lot of our friends have hip replacements, shoulder replacements, or knee replacements, these days. One of my old college friends has been through more life-threatening afflictions than you can imagine. There have been more than our share of cancer scares, most with good outcomes, thank heaven. The Wife, who is a retired nurse practitioner, spends a lot of time researching ailments for friends who need to cut through the foreign language of health care.


And we haven’t been immune. Over the past few months, I’ve done my time in an operating room, and mere weeks later, in a waiting room. If back surgery doesn’t convince you of your mortality, and cool your jets, I don’t know what will. And waiting for test results for my wife of 33 years definitely qualifies as something that bleeds, and is indeed worth worrying about. (Those results, thank heaven, were largely reassuring.)


Last year, a couple we know from Atlanta were packing their bags for a Memorial Day weekend trip to the ocean when he was diagnosed with a virulent strain of cancer that would take his life by November. A lawyer, he came up with a Facebook page urging friends to “Do it now!” instead of putting off the things you’ve always wanted to do. He understood how quickly everything can change.


I can’t count how many times I have used this column to encourage young people to save their money, defer gratification, and avoid wasting money on the junk that is everywhere these days. We’ve always done that, and put off vacations for the last five years because we’re busy taking care of family members, pets, and generally surrendering to our comfortable at-home routine.


No more, though. I look around and think about what life throws at you. And I realize it’s time to shake loose of some of those savings, plan that trip, and quit delaying that gratification.


Because at some point, it bleeds, and it’s time to, “Do it now.”