Recently, I mourned with a friend over the loss of his father. Our families have grown closer in the past few years, and so we wanted to be there for them in their time of need. Each time a passing like this occurs, it gives me pause to be introspective.
Where I work we are frequently at a frenetic pace. Wanting to make sure we hit our on-time targets, many will sacrifice some of our family time to work an evening, a weekend, or an early morning. There have been several incidents in the past few years that have made us all pause for a moment and say “Well, this really does put things in perspective”. Usually it is the death of a family member, or a co-worker who has become ill. Each time we pay homage to the notion of this “perspective”, but quickly we are right back to the rat race of our jobs, and whatever lesson was there is quickly forgotten or buried under a mountain of “important” work to be done. The events of these past weeks have me at another of these crossroads of perspective.
The question I keep asking myself is this: what is the proper perspective to have? What is the lens through which I should be viewing my life so that I don’t lose sight of what is important? This may seem to some to be an easy answer, but for me today it isn’t.
There is a popular notion, you’ve heard it many times, that you should live each day as though it were your last. It’s a romantic idea that when your time comes, if you’ve lived each as your last, you will have lived life to the fullest, with no regrets. Songs and movies have been written about the idea that if you knew your time, you would do things differently. Even the Bible reminds us that we know not the hour, and must always be prepared. But what are we really to do differently?
It’s impractical to live each day truly as though it is your last. If everyone did that, then no unsavory tasks in life would get done. If I knew today was my last day, I wouldn’t go to work, take out the trash, pay my taxes, do yard work, mind my diet, work out, or any other items on a very long list. I would spend it with my family and friends, somewhere special, relaxing or doing an activity that suits me. But what if it were their last day too? What’s to say they want to spend it doing the same things I want to do, or even with me? And what of all the people I don’t know? If they were living as though it were their last day, many of the activities I would want to do would be impossible because no one might be at work that day.
Of course, this is an absurd exaggeration, but it gets to my basic quandary. What does it really mean to live as though this were my last day, when the law of averages says it most likely is not? What is this perspective, this lens through which I am to view my life and make my daily choices? How do I balance the need to work, and plan for the future, while simultaneously living as though this is my last day?
I have been working on this post for over a week. I have written, deleted, edited and re-written several parts. As I write this it is Sunday – Mother’s day. And it is the first Mother’s day since the passing of my own mother last year. In a few days I will post more about my Mother and her life. As I have processed through my own grief in this past year, one aspect of her death has haunted me. She died alone.
For the last decade of her life she was in a nursing home. Just before she died she had been hospitalized, and had just returned to the home. But, because she might still be contagious, she wasn’t allowed to go back to her own room. She was in a strange room, with no roommate, in a different wing of the home, away from the staff that knew her. That day, her lunch was brought. When they went back a little while later, she had died, without ever eating her lunch. She died alone, in a strange room, away from the few belongings she had. The idea of being alone when I die terrifies me. Even more so, the idea of being lonely when my hour comes terrifies me.
I am not sure I know what exactly my perspective should be. I know that I can’t truly live as though today is my last day. And I also know that my days left are not unlimited. Somehow I must find the balance between prudently planning for the future, doing all the tasks of a normal day (even those that are unpleasant), and living without regrets.
Perhaps the answer is that I need to start each day with the idea that this day matters, that there are no throw-away days in life. And, as I rest my head each night, I need to reflect back on how I made sure this day mattered in my life, and the lives of those around me. Perhaps with that lens, I can make sure that I am living to the fullest, and living with no regrets.