Some people say knowing when you’re going to die is a gift. It’s a reminder to focus on what’s important in life. You can plan what you want to spend the last of your time doing. Work on your bucket list. I think that’s mostly bullshit and I’ll let you in on a little secret — we are all going to die. Some know it will be sooner than they had expected, others have no idea when or how, but it will happen to every one of us. Because life includes death — it’s part of the whole. And knowing that your death is imminent must put a certain poignancy in everything you do. This might be the last time you’re able to do this thing, making every moment an important memory. Is that a gift? Maybe. Sometimes we let our life just pass by us and barely notice the important moments that are occurring — your son has outgrown his pants again, your daughter is home from college for an overnight visit, your dad called to say hi.
Since being diagnosed with cancer almost four years ago, I’ve struggled mentally with the rate at which time has been passing me by. I was glad at first when my chemo treatments were over. Then the surgery and the radiation treatments. And it seemed like each day began to fly by faster and faster as if someone was flipping the pages of a book. I lost a year, then another. Many days, I have to remind myself what season we are currently in. Didn’t we just have Christmas? I ask myself. How can it be snowing again already? My kids are growing so fast (I know all parents say this) but honestly my life is such a blur to me right now that I feel sadness and loss just because I can’t seem to slow it down, even for a day, to enjoy things.
When I was a little girl my grandma caught me saying something like “I wish it was summer.” She quickly said, “Don’t wish your life away! It goes by fast enough.” At the time I was around nine years old, Grandma was in her late 50’s then (she was very old to me at the time, because of course you tend to think when you’re young that anyone over 40 is really old) and I thought “yeah, yeah, whatever.” But you know, it’s funny — deep down it must have registered that what she said was important because her exact words have stuck with me all these years. She lived another thirty-something years after that and died at the wonderfully old age of 93 years, having seen all her grandchildren become adults and most have children of their own. We visited her in the days before she passed on. She’d been having issues with fluid in her lungs and we knew it was near the end. She talked about how her mother had lived to be 93 and she told us she was ready, that she’d had a good life and that she loved us all. When I got the phone call a day or so later, I felt peace knowing that Grandma had loved her life and had been blessed with a long, mostly happy one.
One morning before church I was inwardly griping about how the weekend was half over, how I had so little time to enjoy myself. After church, I’d need to go home and do laundry, which takes most of the day, and other chores would take up the rest of my free time. Then it would be Monday morning again, where my life is a rushed commute into work, meetings interspersed with time at my desk trying to complete a variety of tasks, all high priority, then running around like crazy in the evening to pick up and drop off kids, fix dinner, clean up, and fall asleep from exhaustion in a chair while trying to enjoy myself by reading or writing or watching t.v. before bed. How do other people do this, I wonder? How do other people find time to take care of themselves and have free time to have fun, while still accomplishing the multitude of tasks that are required of them?
One of the prayers of the faithful in Mass that day was that people not worry about what needed to be done tomorrow, nor be bound by what had happened yesterday, but to instead appreciate the gift of today. This is something I need to learn how to do. Stop having anxiety about all the things I’ll need to get done, to not complain or feel cheated by all that has happened to me in the past. Live today. Love today. Appreciate the gift of today.
A dear friend of mine has a terminal illness. As the symptoms continue to worsen, his body slowly freezing up on him, refusing to do what he asks it to do, he has continued to smile and joke through it all. From the beginning he has faced his diagnosis with such grace and thoughtfulness and humility and acceptance. He already knows about the gift of today. His wife told me that one morning as he was struggling through his morning routine, his difficulties in moving and dressing himself becoming more and more apparent, he told her, “Today’s gonna be a great day!” She said, “It is? Why?” His answer was “Why not?”
Be grateful for today. Enjoy the gift.