ValueSpeak

A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker

BETTER THE DEVIL YOU KNOW

The chicken fajitas were cooking nicely Ė no question about it.

The tantalizing smells wafting from the Dutch oven simmering on the back patio were enough to tell you that. Chicken, onion, peppers, tomatoes and spices were mingling deliciously, and soon the steaming, aromatic mixture would be spooned onto warm tortillas and consumed by members of two appreciatively hungry families.

Unfortunately, that moment of triumphant consumption was still a few minutes away. Which wasnít a big problem for most of us, who could actually enjoy the last moments of anxious anticipation (and who, the truth be known, could actually stand to miss a meal now and then). But for 10-year-old Lexi, it was an issue. Lexi is diabetic, and has to keep a close eye on her blood sugar levels. And the long wait for fajitas was pushing those levels to a point of mild concern.

What can I say? You just canít rush a Dutch oven.

So Lexi calmly got out her little insulin kit and prepared a syringe for one of her thrice daily injections. Based on her sugar level, she consulted with her mother in getting just the right dosage, then sat without flinching while her mother administered the shot.

Eleven-year-old Elizabeth, who regularly uses an inhaler in her daily battle with asthma, watched the process carefully. No stranger to the travails of ongoing medication, she seemed fascinated by what she saw Lexi doing. And as I tucked her into bed that night, it became quickly evident that what she had seen had touched her.

"Did you say your prayers?" I asked.

"Yes," she said. "I thanked God for my asthma."

As near as I could tell, that was a first. I couldnít remember ever hearing Elizabeth list "asthma" among her blessings. And so I gently asked why.

"It isnít that I like asthma," she said, simply. "But at least I donít have to take shots."

I understood immediately how she felt. Earlier in the week I had spoken to a friend who told me that her aged father had, within a few weeksí time, met and married a woman 42 years his junior.

Oh, and did I mention that this "bride" has a criminal "rap sheet" longer than Shaquille OíNealís arm? And that she has a long, sad history of drug abuse? And that she is HIV positive?

As you might expect, my friend is concerned. I tried to express support and my sincere hope that everything will turn out well for everyone involved, but I couldnít help but think of my own 90-year-old father, content and safe and well-cared for in a nearby care center. Maybe there are some things worse than Alzheimerís. And I silently thanked God for my challenges, just as Elizabeth thanked God for her asthma.

Mom used to have a saying that expressed that sentiment: "Better the devil you know." Of course, I didnít really understand that when I was growing up. Iíd look around, and all I could see was how much better or easier or more exciting other peopleís lives seemed to be. But as Iíve grown older, Iíve come to understand that everyone has their share of struggles Ė visible or otherwise. And no matter how taxing (and yes, I use that word intentionally Ė especially at this time of year) my particular share of struggles may be, when I see what other people are going through with the challenges they are facing . . . well, Iíll take mine.

Along with another helping of chicken fajitas, if you please.

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--- © Joseph Walker

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Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.