Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Live Like You Were Dying

My house is quiet and it seems kind of empty. For several months a cousin and her husband have lived with us while he was being treated for cancer. But at last they are on their way home, back to Alaska, a trip they came here not knowing if they would ever take. During this past year one of my sisters has been a patient here in Salt Lake, also being treated for a severe form of cancer. She's home now too, back in Idaho, having survived far longer than she was told to expect. One of my brothers died a mere year and a half ago and I've lost three sisters-in-law to the dreaded illness. I and two of my daughters are cancer survivors. Why do I mention this? I just learned that an old friend, someone just my age, passed away yesterday, the Haiti tragedy trumps all else on the news waves, and because I have a Tim McGraw country music song stuck in my head . . . "Live like you were Dying.

We joke about "Bucket Lists" and all of the things we'd like to do before we breathe our last, but from my own and those I love's experiences with living as though we were dying, it really isn't the grand adventures, the sky diving, the whirlwind trips around the world that occupy our thoughts at such a time. No our thoughts are more centered on, "I just want to go home," If I could just sit on the back deck and watch the clouds turn pink at sunset," "I want to fall asleep and wake up in my own bed," "I want food to taste the way it used to taste," "I want to hold my grandchildren a little longer," I want to drift to sleep with my head snuggled against my husband's shoulder," "I want to write letters to my children telling them how important they are to me and to God," and "I wish I'd cleaned out all those boxes and left better notes so that the kids will know what is valuable and what only has sentimental value."

But the rest of the song is pretty true. There's something about coming face to face with our own immortality that makes us want to be a little kinder to others, to feel a little deeper, to evaluate the choices we've made in life, and to want to do better. It's a time when we can't help wondering if our final score card is good enough. And oddly enough, there's a scary note of excitement, perhaps anticipation as we contemplate what lies ahead.

If you're thinking I'm in some kind of melencholy fog, thinking about death, I assure you I'm not. It's living I'm thinking about. There's so much about living we take for granted or give little thought to, until we face the possibility of it coming to an end. This world is full of terrible things, but there is also so much good. Think how the sun feels on bare arms on that first warm spring day. Or ice cream melting on your tongue. The scent of a freshly bathed baby snuggled in your arms, the pride and joy tinged with a hint of fear on a five-year-old's face the first day of school, the awe and joy when you see your child kneel at the altar to wed a worthy companion, the feel of warm sand between your toes, the soft fur of a kitten, the grin on a teenager's face when he sinks a critical three-pointer, or that tingling sensation when you know you're still in love with the person you married forty-five years after you made your vows.

There's actually more about living than about death when I say "I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying," and I hope you make that opportunity without waiting for it to be thrust upon you. Instead of seeing the dark and gloomy side of living, perhaps we all should decide what's really important and start looking for the bright and good. Let go of hate and anger, selfishness and greed. Hold fast to the tender moments, the small kindnesses, the innocence of youth, love, and faith in God.

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