The recent passing of my dear Aunt Louise Long prompted me to write about how much she meant to me. It also caused me to think more about something I’ve been mulling over for some time. Below is what developed tonight from those thoughts.
Life is a road of twists and turns, hills and valleys, ruts and pleasant by-ways. We live it fully if we can. The older we are privileged to be, the more we experience the highs and lows, but the more philosophical we may become. My world, so often eclipsed by tragedy and death, it seems, has also been illuminated by the brightest of lights. What is so hard to bear, at times, is that those great moments of illumination are also the cause of the greatest eclipses.
Many of those beacons in my life have gone out. Only those of you who have been privileged to know such warmth and love and compassion and meaning in your lives can also understand the devastation and grief and sorrow…and pure, unadulterated joy in the memories of such lives. I have been blessed beyond measure to have known so many who have given me these wonderful, wretched moments to relive the best of my life while suffering the anguish of knowing that these great hearts are stilled but for memory. I am a lucky, lucky man, yet I am heartsick each time.
These are the most telling instances. We are reminded that we must cherish each day, each moment, each one who means so very much to us, but these aren’t the only reasons to live to our fullest in this short life we are given. Look around, but most of all, look within. What is missing that shouldn’t be? What experiences are yet to be lived that we have the opportunities to know? Why aren’t we doing it?
Nike’s most famous motto is “Just Do It!” On a ski lift not long ago I was engaged in conversation with three young men about our ski lives. One asked me how long I’d been skiing. When they learned approximately how old I was (I’d been skiing off and on for some fifty years at the time), one of them asked me for some advice about life. I told him, “Don’t just do it; do it NOW!”
I don’t know what prompted me to that bit of wisdom, but I’ve thought about it often since then. Too many of those great lives I’ve known were taken from me unexpectedly—heart attack, stroke, crushing and immediate disease. Not long ago I was given a cancer diagnosis myself. Luckily it was caught soon enough that surgery “cured” me, and because of the miracle of modern medicine, I anticipate many years more of this adventure. But the “now” has become more important to me.
For some, the first inclination with this philosophy might be to give up everything and live a life of hedonistic pleasure or take off at twenty and backpack around the world, living off handouts and the kindness of strangers—or their parents’ incomes. That is not my meaning at all. Doing it “now” when you’re just starting out in life might mean determining just what life is supposed to be, how it’s to be lived and where, what occupation or career to pursue or what intrinsic meaning that life is supposed to have in the end, and then developing a plan to achieve those goals. Doing it now at that stage would be doing “now” what needs to be done to have the life intended or desired. For those with more of their lives already lived, some reflection is definitely in order when they’re unsatisfied with the current outcomes, but the process is still the same.
I wanted my life to serve others. I wanted to have a family and provide for them. I wanted to write. I wanted to ski and enjoy nature. So I went to school. I earned three degrees. I went to work. I fell in love. Married. Had children. Helped them to be successful themselves, and I keep reminding them that I am here to help them as I can. I had a good teaching career and still hear from countless former students who are themselves successfully pursuing various careers and life endeavors. I am outdoors almost daily in various environments and take the time to look around and “smell the roses.” And I write…and ski.
I read once something to the effect that we should live our lives so that we come to the end with no regrets and no wishes that we had done something we didn’t do. If I live a thousand years I’ll not achieve those goals, but I try not to miss any opportunities. I don’t pass up the chances to tell those I love that I do. I try to find something new in every day. However, I don’t write as much as I would like. I’m still trying to learn to play the guitar and to draw well enough to satisfy myself. I don’t ski as much as I’d like, but I’m getting there.
Whatever it is you want to do, do it now…or at least put the wheels in motion to get there, no matter how much water is already over the dam or how far “down hill” you’ve already come. When you’re just sitting and wishing that you were doing something else, get up and get started!
Now, excuse me. I need to finish that novel I started.