First Things First

Photo by Daria Obymaha on

We’ve begun Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol in British Literature, and as we plumb the depths of Ebeneezer Scrooge’s character, I am reminded of how easily we can be distracted from the things that are truly most important in life. Indirect characterization often speaks louder than any direct statement made about one’s character. Watch how someone acts around others, listen to what they say, note how they dress, and, perhaps most importantly, observe how they react to others around them or the inconveniences of living in a fallen world. There’s the true litmus test of character. Our choices reflect what we really believe and what we value most.

Dr. Stephen R. Covey said it so well:

“Putting first things first means organizing and executing around your most important priorities. It is living and being driven by the principles you value most, not by the agendas and forces surrounding you.”

Dr. Stephen R. Covey

It’s actually far easier to live life “driven by the … agendas and forces surrounding you.” If that hasn’t become glaringly apparent over the past twenty months, I don’t know what has. And as a public school teacher, it’s felt nearly suffocating, this year especially. Simply type “new stressors for teachers in 2021” in a DuckDuckGo search and you will find article upon article about the increase in job-related stress and poor mental health, the two main culprits behind our nation’s current teacher shortage. Unless you absolutely don’t care about your students, it’s nearly impossible to NOT take work home with you. At the very least, the exhaustion finds a way to slip into the seat beside you on the ride home.

Then what do I have to offer my wife and children? How many times have I fallen asleep trying to read bedtime stories to my youngest sons? How often have I missed the opportunity to pour into the lives of my family around the dinner table? When can I actually find time to write, or even just be still enough to savor the quiet of a Sunday afternoon, listening for what might be waiting to rouse my soul? This is the battle I face daily, and what has led me back to a villanelle I wrote ten years ago. Though a decade has passed, the tug for my attention has not. The villanelle form captures this struggle beautifully with its two repeated lines, alternating throughout the poem in a structural tug-of-war. May you and I both land where the poem does, putting first things first, driven by what we value most.


Vincent H. Anastasi - 2011 (rev. 2021)

The papers on my desk lie waiting,
each day too brief to make headway;
first things demand a higher rating.

My students' patience is fast abating;
they hope for "B's" or hallowed "A's."
Their papers on my desk are waiting.

My sprightly children, sock-on-tile skating,
rush to greet me with inflated praise
(first things demand my higher rating).

Even this moment is ripe for grading
the black-ink-harvest of minds on page -
those papers upon my desk, awaiting.

And though by this ring, we're far past dating,
my wife and I still must be engaged -
first things demand the highest rating.

So I am fatigued with this contemplating,
the habitual battle will pull me each way:
the papers on my desk lie waiting;
the first things demand a higher rating.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s