- Robert Benson
The Time That Is Given Us
A normal pulse was a welcome site after heart-related surgery on January 8, 2020.
January 1, 2020, ushered in more than a new year ... for me, it led to heart-related surgery and a renewed perspective on the fragility of life and the importance of making the most of the time that is given to us. Against this backdrop, I am embracing 2020 as an opportunity to re-focus on what I value most in my life: my relationships with family, colleagues, clients, friends, and the students that we support through Love Forward.
Working out on a stationary bike that day, I noticed that I was unable to keep my heart rate elevated. Shortly thereafter, I saw my resting heart rate drop below 40. For the next several days, my pulse was often in the 40's, and I felt short-of-breath and light-headed. I finally asked my wife to take me to the emergency room.
Over the next several days, I received numerous scans and tests, as doctors sought to diagnose the cause of my symptoms. The second day, I was transferred by ambulance to Kaiser hospital on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, where a cardiac MRI followed. My low heart rate resulted from an AV block, which was being caused by a rare condition called cardiac sarcoidosis, which which was impacting my lungs, lymph nodes, and heart. Oftentimes, the the first symptom of this condition is sudden death or heart failure, and it usually starts in persons between the ages of 20 and 40.
Fortunately, in my case, the issue was identified early. As a result, the doctors were able to remedy the issue through surgery and treatment, including the placement of an ICD - a pacemaker to keep my heart beating normally, and a defibrillator to protect against sudden death arrhythmias. Ongoing treatment will be required to manage the sarcoidosis, including regular infusions in the chemo therapy ward of a hospital near my office. But because my heart and lungs are otherwise strong and healthy, the long-term prognosis is good and I still expect to live a long life with a normal life expectancy. Within weeks, I was back in the office, working at full capacity.
Still, these events have reminded me that life itself is a gift, one that I should never take for granted. Every day presents opportunities that will be gone the next. Whether at work or at home, we have opportunities to give and to serve, to invest in the people around us, and to positively impact future generations. As JRR Tolkien wrote, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
The past couple of months have included a great deal of reflection. I have been blessed to live a full and rich life. I recently celebrated my 30th wedding anniversary, and my wife Kristen and I have four incredible children, Jessica, Andrew, Danielle and Stephanie, ages 17 to 25. They are pursuing careers of service in vocations including teaching, law enforcement, and psychology. They are loving, sensitive, compassionate people who are kind and thoughtful toward others. It is a blessing to see my heart live on, through them.
Things that I have put off and procrastinated over the past several years will be prioritized in the next 18 months. Jessica and I will be visiting the Love Forward students in Nicaragua. I will be accompanying Stephanie on a trip to New York with her dance studio and then embarking on college visits in the fall. My family will be spending a week in Yosemite, at cabins where I stayed every year as a child. And I am planning to finally complete the John Muir Trail in the Sierras on a backpacking trip with Andrew.
This year, the Arms of Love Children's Homes that I helped start in Nicaragua and the Philippines back in 2000 will be celebrating their 20th anniversaries. And I am planning to visit each of the Love Forward students in Nicaragua, the Philippines, and India before the end of the year.
At my office, I am committed to pouring myself into the lives of the younger colleagues that I am working with. I am also planning to spend extended amounts of time in Asia in the second half of 2020, to connect with my clients and friends in Taiwan and in China, where my legal practice is focused.
Looking ahead, the future holds greater uncertainty. But the future is always uncertain - my current condition has simply made me more aware of it. And in the midst of that greater awareness is a call to action - to prioritize, every day, the things that are most important in life. There are only two things that may survive this life or have an impact beyond my passing ... my relationship with God and my relationships with others. And so it follows that these relationships should be the focus of whatever time I am given here.
And so I enter a new season of my life ... one that I expect will be the most productive and the most blessed. One that will complete my legacy. And one that will revolve around a single theme ... to love forward.
In 2019, my son Andrew graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University with a degree in sociology and criminal justice, and my daughter Jessica received her Masters of Science in Social Entrepreneurship from USC. In both photos are pictured my four children Stephanie, Danielle, Andrew, and Jessica, at each of last year's graduations. In starting college programs for youth at orphanages in less developed countries, I started with a simple premise: that I should love them the same way that I love my own children, as they are worth nothing less.
Last year, I celebrating thirty years of marriage with my wife Kristen, who has been my rock and my best friend for most of my life. It's in our marriage where I've experienced genuine love that is often stretched, yet never fails ... love that finds hope in the darkness and perseveres to the end.