A few days ago I attended the funeral of a friend and co-worker’s wife who was in her early forties like myself. Losing a repeated battle with breast cancer, she left behind two daughters and a son, all under ten. The church was filled almost to capacity with surely four hundred people in attendance, probably over a third were co-workers from NASA. All a testament to who she was and how far her circle reached. Everyone spoke of her convictions in her faith, her involvement with the community, her family, and her love of life; but it wasn’t quite enough.
This scenario has unfortunately been all too common to those in and around my life these days. Perhaps it is circumstance or just the season of my life, but over the last year and a half I lost count after twenty of my friends, spouses of friends and family members, and parents of friends have passed away. I try to attend to pay my respects to those who have passed on, but also to show support to those who are still living. Although I must admit that each and every one seems to get harder for me as the years pass. Instead of Life making me harder and more callous, I seem to have missed the lesson being taught and have gotten soft hearted. Instinctually I identify with the survivors, the children, the spouses and viscerally place myself in their shoes, feeling their loss, their pain, and the vacuum left behind. I cannot help but imagine how this all must seem and the confusion as to why their mother will not be coming home and the sadness they must feel. I cannot help but feel the all consuming sense of loss and emptiness of the spouse; not knowing how they will make it through tomorrow. This is not a place I want to be or voluntarily place myself, but I have to fight to stay away. And thus, to me, funerals suck!
Additionally, my personal convictions about my spiritual life add to the difficulty for me. For all intents and purposes, I would call myself and spiritual agnostic. Not a popular thing to say, but there you have it. So what does that have to do with any of this? Well, for me it means that in this life of mine, each day I have the opportunity to get out of bed and see the sun rise, and have my daughter give me a hug when she gets up and tell me she loves me, to have my son smile and tackle me as I sit on the floor, and to have the warm embrace of my wife every day. Each of these are a gift so valuable they cannot for a second be wasted. Each and every day is immeasurably special and cannot be retrieved or done over.
For me there is no guarantee of a life there after, no guarantee of something better waiting for me later down the road in the hereafter. This too makes each of my days more precious as they are my only opportunities to experience this wonderful experiment called Life. Each day is an opportunity to explore what it means to be this creature we call Human. Each day is a unique snapshot in time where we can fully wallow around in all of the gut-wrenching, heart-filling, awe-inspiring, blood-chilling, hell-depressing, life-affirming emotions that make our sole existence unique.
On a personal note, having a brush with death at the age of sixteen I had the eye-opening experience then which gave me the perspective that of this life, we only get to ride once. After that, your ride is over and your ticket expired. From that point on, I have tried to live life with no regrets, “what ifs” or “if onlys”. If I go to bed at night and I didn’t achieve something or make a difference, it’s only my fault, no one else’s. I take full responsibility for my actions, my mistakes, and my successes. So, if you ever wonder why I am always running at 110% or have chosen the path that I have, it is because for the last twenty five years I have been aware of how close death is to me. And I fully realize that one day I will no longer be able to stay ahead, at which point my ride in this life will be over. But until that day, I get to spend time with other souls that are trying to make their way through this maze of life.
At the funeral the priest related a story of a vacation trip that my friend and his wife had taken where they were on a hike to climb a mountain. My friend stopped about half way up to admire the view and to rest his feet, and mentioned the beautiful the panoramic view. His wife said, “Yeah, you’re right, it is beautiful. But think how beautiful it will be if we keep on going!” That was her attitude in life and one that I understand and share. Yeah, your life is good now, but think how much better it will be if you climb a little higher! Think about all of the wonderful sights you will see, experiences you will have, the wonderful people you will meet, and the invaluable relationships you will form. And at the end of the day, the material things are nice, but it’s the relationships in your life that are where the true gold in your life lies.
I challenge everyone who reads this to live each day like it might be your last. Consider your daily problems and irritations in a similar light to help put them in the right perspective. And I tell you something, through this view glass, you will be amazed at how it dramatically changes your daily priorities and life goals.
So to you I say: Love your family like there is no tomorrow. Hug them so tight it hurts. Unchain your mind of preconceptions and prejudices. Watch the sun rise. Run the extra mile. Feed the hungry. Care for the lonely. Go skydiving. Touch the soul of another. Swim with the dolphins. And for goodness sake, howl at the moon! Go ahead and climb on up to the top of the mountain – because I hear the view is astounding!
Terry R. Hill