Tuesday, August 17, 2010

20 minutes

Over the past three days I have come across three different accounts of men dying unexpectedly, leaving behind wives and young children. While I did not personally know any of these men (I sort of knew one of the wives many years ago) I was struck by how similar the stories were, especially the poignancy of the abruptness of their passings. These men all had plans - for their next vacations, for their kids' futures, even for where to meet a friend for lunch the next day. But these plans, and countless others were cut short because....because.....well, we'll never really know why, will we?

But that's not the point. The point is, we all know we're going to die. That's a fact (that I hope I'm not springing on anyone who was previously unaware of his/her own impending mortality). But we all assume that it won't happen for many many years, when we've lived at least eight or nine decades, when we've achieved all that we set out to do in our lives and we're completely fulfilled on all levels.

Except it didn't happen this way for these three men. When I stepped outside this morning to get the paper I was greeted by the most beeeeautiful blue sky I think I've ever seen. I can't even describe the color - it was like some magical periwinkle/cerulean combination (that incidentally I'd love to use to paint my bedroom). As I stood there, marveling at the sight, it occurred to me that three men: Henry, Paul, and Victor, would never get to look up at a sky again. Whether it was a clear blue one, a gray and rainy one, or a starry-filled black one, skygazing was over for them. Forever.

And that got me thinking how lucky I was to be alive. We don't often think about this as we go through our daily lives, do we? I'll admit that it's difficult sometimes to feel lucky when we feel overwhelmed with the many things we need to get done in a given day. But that's why it's so important to take the time to appreciate the fact that even on our worst day, it's still a day that we get to live, and find what enjoyment in it that we can.

Enter Jerry Seinfeld. I recently caught a segment of his on Oprah where he was talking about how his wife was trying to give up her morning coffee. He was saying (as only Jerry Seinfeld can): "She loves the coffee! She loves making the coffee, stirring the coffee, drinking the coffee! I love that SHE loves the coffee! Why give it up? We're dead in like, 20 minutes - HAVE THE COFFEE!"

That last bit really resonated with me: We're dead in like, 20 minutes. Isn't that SO true? So why do we spend so much of every day worrying about insignificant things? Why do we waste so much of our time on people and things and situations that cause us stress? Of course there are things we have to do that may not always be pleasant. But we have control over how we handle those things. And we also have control over choosing NOT to do some things that we know won't add joy to our lives.

Most of all, we can make the choice to consciously ADD joy to our lives. Erma Bombeck famously quoted that if she had her life to live over she would eat less cottage cheese and more ice cream. Life itself provides so many opportunities for laughter and color and light, but it's up to us to pay enough attention to find them. And if, for whatever reason we can't find them, then we can make them happen ourselves.

So have the coffee and enjoy it. Savor the hugs and kisses from loved ones. And from time to time, remember to look up at the sky. I can think of three men who would give anything to be able to do that even one more time.

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