I was enjoying the warm spring sun on my face, about to board the M.S. Dixie for a peaceful cruise on Lake Tahoe, when I saw the Facebook post about my friend Sean passing away. Just like that, the spring day turned dark. Sean was a friend from college, and was a constant presence in some of my fondest memories of those wild, carefree days in Chico, California. Then he was gone. No warning. No prelude. No foreshadowing. Just gone.
It was the morning of my eldest daughter’s kindergarten graduation when I heard about Marti’s passing. A mom of two girls, just like me. Friends since high school, we flipped burgers together after school and later worked as baristas at the same coffee shop, daring each other to slam shot after shot of espresso. The morning that my beautiful daughter waved at me from the stage during her graduation, I was haunted by the thought of Marti’s two beautiful daughters waving to an empty seat. Just like that, a mom, gone.
Last week, I took a break from splashing in a cool lake on a hot summer day to look at my phone. We were on a weekend getaway and the day was perfect. Until I looked at my phone. It took just that second to learn about Mandy finally losing her ongoing health battle. Mandy, with whom I’d climbed trees as kids and drove to baseball games as teens. Silly, crazy Mandy. Gone.
Life changes just like that. One moment you look forward to the next time you’ll see your friend or loved one. The next moment, you’re wondering how the world can suffer the loss of such a beautiful soul. And what about the countless close calls of other friends? Perhaps I’ve had close calls I don’t even know about. What about the crazy driver in the yellow Mustang convertible who narrowly avoiding slamming into my rear bumper at full speed because she carelessly looked down for a second? What would have happened if she hadn’t looked up?
Every day that I’m gifted with another 24 hours of life, I’m more aware of how precious those hours are. I don’t believe we can control when we leave this earth – that’s a decision for a higher power than me – but I do believe it’s my duty to make the most of the time I’ve got. I wasn’t gifted this life to squander it.
I’m often on the receiving end of comments like, “You’re doing too much. You’re too busy. You need to slow down.” Yes, perhaps they’re right. And I do enjoy slowing down. I enjoy the quiet, still moments of life as much as the busy ones. But I just can’t pass up an opportunity to experience life, to challenge my comfort zone, to see beyond the familiar and soak in everything this world has to offer.
The years fly by… but what happens when your years run out? Will you regret that spontaneous trip to the coast that perhaps you couldn’t exactly afford at the time but that you’ve long since paid off and still have the memories as a reward? Probably not. Will you wish you hadn’t jumped off that rope swing into a rush of cold water and a surge of adrenaline? It might give you chills to this day, but I’d bet the memory makes you smile.
This philosophy sometimes interferes with my mothering philosophy, which is “Don’t let them die.” Yep, it’s pretty hard to carpe diem when you’re talking about children whose diem is my responsibility. I do hover a bit. But just because I tell them to not wander off the trail doesn’t mean I don’t let them take the hike. My youngest is at her first year of sleep-away camp this week. Someone asked me if she’s too young for it, and for a split second I questioned my judgement to let a 7-year-old sleep in a tent in the forest without a parent. But my answer is still no, she’s not too young for it. She’s learning new things, meeting new friends, and possibly learning something about herself in the process. And this first year of camp will always be a memory that I wouldn’t want to take from her.
It’s a delicate balance – safety vs. adventure. But I’ve learned over and over again in the most heart-wrenching way that life is not a guarantee. I don’t want to always take the safe road until my road runs out. One life. That’s all we have. This isn’t a trial run, it’s the real deal. And I will not go gentle into that good night.