A "friend" ornament shared with my friend Dale.

Just a couple of years ago, today would have been a travel day. I’d have my bag packed, a batch of shortbread made, and would be (probably frantically) doing some last-minute work this morning before heading to the airport for a Thursday-to-Sunday pre-Christmas getaway. Destination: Vancouver, and the home of my very best friend from — and the highlight of — my high school days.

Sometimes, between the demands of work and my own family and getting ready for Christmas, it seemed impossible to even think of getting away, but I did. We got ready for Christmas together every year that Dale spent in Vancouver. Usually, we went to pick out a tree together, set it up and decorated it. I made more shortbread with her two daughters. We went Christmas shopping. We made meals, laughed, hung out with her son and daughters, caught up on each other’s lives and laughed some more. Even the mundane chores of life with small children were somehow easier because it was like having two moms in the house.

Well, maybe you know where this is heading. Dale died of multiple myeloma in January, 2005. So I can’t tell you how glad I am that I made a point of visiting every single year, no matter what was going on.

Jean Gogolin, a speechwriter friend met through the serendipity of the Internet, shared in a recent newsletter an interesting perspective on the need for balance in life, contained in a speech by Coca-Cola CEO Bryan Dyson:

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them — work, family, health, friends and spirit, and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls — family, health, friends and spirit — are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. It will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”

I love that description, and he’s right. Every time I’ve thought “I can’t possibly get away, I’ve got too much work,” but I’ve done it anyway — to visit Dale, to take a one-hour skiing lesson once a week, to help out occasionally in my sons’ classrooms when they were small — the work has been there when I returned, and it got done. And my family, health, friends and spirit have been the better for my choice.

So don’t neglect your work, but make sure it doesn’t cause you to scuff or shatter the other balls in your life.