I wrote this originally over a year ago. At that time, one of my friends got a phone call saying his dad had suddenly died, but he couldn’t go home for the funeral. Then soon after that, my grandmother died. And in the office I was working in that summer, during our prayer meeting we learned about a guy at a church in town who had just lost both his wife and child in a recent car accident. In a flash, he found himself all alone.
I don’t think many things can disappear as quickly as life does.
You know, somewhere in the back of my head there’s been this expectation that I’m guaranteed at least another twenty years of enjoying my parents being part of my life, and that if I have kids, they’ll have grandparents around to watch them grow up. That’s just what I’ve always assumed. Or I believe certain people will just be part of the picture. Even though I’m not promised it, I expect it. I really can’t decide if that’s foolish or not. Because on one hand, you can’t live your life like people will always be there because they won’t, and once they die you’d just be left shell-shocked and numb. On the other hand, you can’t go through life expecting people to suddenly die. That’d be depressing. People would never want to be around you.
Take it to a personal level. If people won’t always be there, then neither will I. I have to keep in mind the limited time slot I occupy. There is no promise that any of us are going to wake up tomorrow. There’s not. I mean, just because you may be really fit or in good health doesn’t assure you of that. And it’s not like you’re somehow entitled to occupying the next day. If your eyes open in the morning, it’s an unbelievable gift, and it means you still have something to do. It’s easy to think I have sixty years of life left, and I might. I also might have two months left, which means where I am right now is my sphere of influence, the last place I’ll be able to leave my mark. If we wake up every morning and start the day by going, “Today could be my last,” we’d live it differently because we’d see everything in a new light. We’d view people not as a nuisance, but worthy of love and encouragement, a person with potential. We’d realize our careers—as important and demanding as they are—are not what define us. That movie coming out next weekend suddenly doesn’t seem so significant anymore . . .
People become a top priority when we remember and realize how relationships with them are one of the few things in life that will last. And so, we focus on and strive after that which is permanent, not temporary. If money lasted post-death, we would worship it, but the very fact that it doesn’t transcend the physical into the spiritual makes it of little importance. I think this is why some people start to freak out on their deathbed because it suddenly hits them that the majority of what they’ve strived for will stay exactly where it is, whereas they will not. They are on the move while what they worked so hard for is staying disturbingly fixed. So why would I rely on something that can’t match the longevity of my soul? If Christ does indeed last forever, I suppose I should focus on him. Relationships we build can and do last forever. That’s why they, too, are worth our full attention.
Some days I’ll just be walking along and have this sudden thought that hits me. I’m not sure why, but it usually happens when a sharp breeze hits me in the face, and I’ll just think, “You know, I could die today.” And I almost start laughing at how incredibly not-in-control I am, and yet, I live my life like I am.
You see, there are people all around us who need our attention right now, and since we’re not guaranteed tomorrow, suddenly it’s “right now” that matters most. Is planning for the future and having goals wrong? No, and in fact, those can be good things. But if we wrap ourselves up in that nonstop, we’ll completely miss what we need to be doing in this very moment. Because we can pretend that life is all about the milestones, big events, and accomplishments, but if that is what we endlessly strive for we’ll miss the people and experiences that fill in the spaces between the checkpoints and achievements—the everyday mundanity, if you will. And it’s ironic how that “boring stuff” is what we remember the most anyway. When I’m on my deathbed (if I’ll have one), I’m not going to be looking back at academic recognition, ice hockey trophies, or essays of which I’m rather proud. No . . . I’ll be thinking about Thursday lunches at Subway with Charlie; going to Austin with Dylan to see Mylah; hugging a tree in the woods with Bakke for two hours; traveling the world with Monroe; long talks with Sky; eating dinner with Sally on the back porch of her presidential mansion; the Thanksgiving road trip with Dave, Noah, and Josh; going to Whole Foods one day to shop with Mom; sitting in the car and just talking to Dad after we saw Memaw for the last time; and laughing with my brothers until our abs were screaming in pain.
I’ll hold onto that. There’s a part of me believing that if I mirror this value system with my life, my mind will be blown at the potential for good because of how people will be cherished more. But the first thing that has to happen is to go along with that plan: to stop living my life like I’m in control. I would hate to think that an apt summary of my days could be “should’ve done a lot more” because I was under the impression life was about focusing on gargantuan accomplishments, or “wasted his time” because I thought I had all the time in the world, when that, in fact, very well couldn’t be further from the truth.
But words mean very little. And I’m afraid my actions have already communicated to a lot of the people in my life how I don’t know how to stop and cherish them. And maybe that’s why death is so hard. It brings regret and missed opportunities to the surface and blows them up into a behemoth. But there is grace. Sweet, sweet grace. And we have the ability to give it to one another every day with every interaction. Perhaps that’s just another aspect—one of many—of living with (and in) grace and truth.