“Do you live as though you have all the time in the world? Having all the time in the world is an illusion. You never know what might happen—an accident, an illness, or a disaster. If you only had moments to live, would you change your priorities? What would you do? Where would you go? How would you interact with your family, friends, loved ones—even strangers? But truly: Why are you not doing these things now?” –Arnie Kozak, from Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants (Wisdom)
I understand the sentiment and the truth expressed in this idea and I sometimes think about this when it comes to my interactions with others. On the other hand, I mostly go through my days anticipating tomorrow and putting off doing things because I just can’t imagine not waking up in the morning. I understand that every day, many people won’t wake up but I seldom really see myself in those numbers. That is the paradox.
Today as I read a new book, I was startled awake by a few lines in a poem by Marie Howe, called The Last Time. This poem is part of a series she wrote about her brother who died. In this poem she writes about the last time they had dinner together. He asks if she realizes that he will die soon and when she replies yes, he says:
What surprises me is that you don’t.
And I said I do. And he said, What?
And I said, Know that you’re going to die.
And he said, No, I mean know that you are.
It was such a reminder. An awakening of how easy it is to forget our mortality. That we have not been built to last indefinitely. I have given up on the idea of having all my ducks in order when my time comes. I accept that there will be many things left undone for my kids to tidy up on my behalf. But it has never been clearer as I strive to be more conscious about my limited days that I do not want my last words to be anything other than loving and kind.
The author of the quote we began with is talking about now. This moment, in this very day. It is June 16th and the morning is beautiful and I will take time to go for a 30 k bike ride with three young boys who are raising money to help build a well in South Sudan. I can take time to be extravagant with my word gifts. If the last thing I do, is make a meal, or write a few words or doodle on a page with colored pencils, so be it. I want to walk, laugh, learn, look foolish now and then and be awestruck that I got to live, surrounded by wonderful people from coast to coast. So, I want to write more thank-you notes expressing my love and gratitude.
This evening I am thinking about priorities and how everything can change in a flash. And how ultimately, we are here to lend a hand and receive a hand. And how our priorities change with additional information: he has inoperable cancer; she was hit by a car; she lost the baby; he took his life when the business failed…she just got the best job; the twins graduated; she won a scholarship; he just got the acceptance letter; the cough isn’t asthma. Or maybe simple things like I’ve got pink eye and I need to see my husband in the hospital, or my son needs to be picked up early from school, can you, do it? A million little choices each and every day with none of them ever looked at, as the last thing we will do.
Now that’s something to think about. Maybe it is less about “what would I be doing if I knew” and more about how I will live this moment with the knowledge of my mortality.
How might I do this one thing now if I knew it was the very last thing I would ever do?
Warmest wishes along with these musings,