Setting Off Smoke Alarms
Today, in a few hours, I’ll turn 48 years old.
So, you know … YAY!
And I just got an email a couple of days ago about my upcoming 30th high school class reunion. Thirty years since I graduated high school. THIRTY. YEARS.
30 * 365 = 10,950 days, plus a few leap days. Call it 11,000.
Eleven thousand sunrises, eleven thousand sunsets.
Two wives, one at a time. Three kids.
Six jobs. Two universities. One college degree.
Four apartments. Three houses.
Probably 11,000 beers too. Nearly all of them in the first twenty years, not so much the last ten.
30 years is a long time on anybody’s calendar. There’s no more fooling yourself, pretending your time here is unlimited. Maybe there’s lots of time, maybe not. You just don’t know.
That’s the point. You never know, even when you’re younger. Sure, your odds of having a long and healthy life in front of you are very good in your twenties and thirties; but odds apply only to groups of people, not and individual person. For every one person, there can only be one discrete outcome. One lifespan. You’re just not sure what it is, so you assume it’s a long one. And it usually is.
Sometimes, no. My wife had a good friend in college who died when he was 32, of leukemia. He left behind two small kids and a wife. Then she died before she was 40, of breast cancer. I’m sure they expected to live long and healthy lives, too. My wife’s Dad died at 50.
But here I am, plugging along at 47 years, 364 days, and 22 hours. I feel good, generally. I eat pretty well, exercise, and I have a job that keeps my brain engaged. I’ve never been on any prescription medication. I have had a couple of bouts of depression, but I’ve managed to pull out of those on my own, by finally understanding what was driving them and taking steps to fix my own thought processes. That’s what depression is, at least for me: feeling imprisoned and isolated by your own thoughts.
Most important, I have a family that loves me, and I love them, and I try not to take any of that for granted. Not too often, anyway.
As we all know, there are no guarantees about tomorrow. Ever. But many of us still fool ourselves when we avoid picturing our own mortality until we hit the “later” stages of our lives. And how do we really know when it is “later”, anyway?
But picturing your own mortality is a gift, really. It forces you to focus on what you should be doing with your time. And it isn’t just our mortality we should try to imagine: what if you knew that you’d get ALS some day, wouldn’t that make you try to “live more” today?
We all know we should have made some better decisions when we were younger, and sometimes even when we are older. Bad decision making is often the result of assuming one has more time left than they have any right to assume they have.
So, on we muddle, one day at a time. Eventually, whether its in a few days or 35 years, we are called by God. And with a little luck, and some hard work, we feel like we’ve accomplished something in our time here. Made a mark of some kind. Raised some kids, loved our spouse, enjoyed some friends. Laughed a lot, cried a little. And like a miracle, out of a series of individual days, we’ve woven a tapestry, comprised of all the events and people from our lives. Yet worrying about the length of that tapestry doesn’t help make it longer, and may indeed shorten it.
The important thing is to focus on each little piece of the tapestry, with a sense of purpose, but a sense of humor too. Intently. One day at a time. Because if you live each day with an eye on building something good, usually, you do.
But even if you don’t, you tried. And that’s all we can ever really expect.