Precious Jeopardy: A Christmas Story

Published December 20, 1984. Several years ago we were living in Tallahassee, Florida where I was working on my doctorate degree at Florida State University. We had two children and very little money. (It’s amazing how some things change and some don’t.)

Early in December, 1970, our church congregation’s leader asked me to speak at a Christmas program. So, I related the story “Precious Jeopardy: A Christmas Story,” a short book, written by Lloyd C. Douglas in 1933 and now out of print.

“Precious Jeopardy” is about a man named Phil Garland who stepped on a needle Christmas Eve and thought he was going to die. He got half the needle out and thought the other half was still in his foot. For various reasons he decided to leave that half in his foot, thereby putting his life in jeopardy.

Since he did not know how much longer he was going to live, Phil Garland treated his wife Shirley, and their two children with extra care and attention. Life went on like that on a daily basis for one more year. He literally did not know if he would be alive from one day to the next.

The story ends a year later, on Christmas Eve. Phil gives Shirley a gift he has made for her. And she hands him a gift. It is a tiny box one inch square. He opens it up and finds in it the other half of needle he thought was in his foot. Shirley found it the day after the accident but held back giving it to Phil because he had become such a good, kind man. The story stresses the importance of spending time with loved ones each day because we all do not know how much longer we or they are going to live.

I told the story of “Precious Jeopardy” several times during 1971 to various groups. They all seemed to enjoy it because it emphasizes the importance of setting our priorities straight and enjoying life with our family members.

Later we moved to Carbondale, Illinois where I began teaching at Southern Illinois University. That Christmas I found a copy of “Precious Jeopardy” in their library and re-read it. It still had a monumental impact on my thinking at Christmas time.

Then on March 4, 1972, I had an unusual experience. Early in the morning I woke up, walked down the hall . . . and stepped on a needle. I rushed to the hospital to get it out, only to find it so deeply imbedded that they had to call a surgeon from his home to remove it.

While lying on the operating table waiting for him to come, I realized I was living Phil Garland’s experience, What irony! And like him, I found myself thinking not only about dying, but more importantly, about living.

After the needle was removed. I returned to Susan and our children. I told them how much they meant to me. My foot eventually healed, but the vivid impression of that experience has never left me. Since then, I have thought seriously about life, its purpose, what matters most, and where do I spend most of my time.

I later read a statement by Henry David Thoreau when he went to the woods surrounding Walden Pond. He did so, he said, “Because I wished to live deliberately, to confront only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life living so dear.”

Jesus, he whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas, said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” It is my sincere hope during this holiday season that we all experience part of that abundance with our loved ones. May we not become insensitive to the things of the heart and find, when it comes time to die, that we really have not lived.

Why do I like Christmas? Because it helps me take time to think about the important things in life.

Merry Christmas from the Barlows.

See also A Tiny Fragment of Steel

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