“It is so easy to waste our lives: our days, our hours, our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the pale new growth on an evergreen, the sheen of the limestone on Fifth Avenue, the color of our kids’ eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead of live. Unless you know there is a clock ticking.” – Anna Quindlen
My friend Shannon called Thursday morning last, while I was out of town, to tell me that a mutual friend of ours had been killed in a car accident. Katrina was on her usual commute home on an otherwise normal day when, through a tragic chain reaction and no fault of her own, her car was struck by a vehicle (that had been hit by another vehicle and sent careering out of control) and pushed into the path of a tractor-trailer truck. The accident was horrific, and Katrina was pronounced dead at the scene. She was 36.
What I know and what I want to say about Katrina is that she was beautiful inside and out – a sweet person with a generous heart. She felt deeply, and she let us see who she really was. She let us in on some of her struggles and pain, she didn’t try to hide them. And things were starting to look brighter for her recently. She seemed grounded, happier. She was determined to get to a better place and she was on her way there. So, when I think of her life cut tragically short, I hang onto that fact and somehow it mitigates the loss just a little bit. But she will be missed, there’s just no getting around that.
Her death brought front and center the shock I feel when life periodically shows me how little control I have over much of anything. It’s also a poignant reminder that none of us has the slightest idea how much time we have. And so, as a line from one of my favorite movies, Shawshank Redemption, goes: “I guess it comes down to a simple choice really – get busy living, or get busy dying.”
I admit I take for granted that I’m likely to see old age, basing my bet on the good genes exhibited by the long lives had by my elderly grandmothers. Chances are strong that I will make it to at least 80, and that’s a solid 35 years away. There’s plenty of time left, right? What a seductive, common, absurd notion. It might happen, but I would be stupid to continue to live like it’s a given or to ignore how quickly it will go by if it does.
I’ve been practicing slowing down and staying present so that I notice what is in front of me instead of reliving the past or projecting into a future which may or may not come to pass. And while this conscious living / staying present thing requires real effort, I’m committed to working at it, though it is time to up the ante. I’m pretty adventurous, and I often say “yes” when interesting opportunities arise, but it’s time to get really clear about some of the things I’ve been saying I want to do and make them happen. If I do it right, I’ll be able to look back at the end of each day exhaustedly sated because I wrung every last bit of amazing out of it that was possible. If I manage to pull off those two little things, each of my days should start to look like, as my friend Kelly says, “a good day to die”.
Be good to each other. Be good to yourselves.