Only a month ago, I was rushing around ticking off my to-do list when a call came in that changed life forever. It was a call my husband and I had hoped would not come for a long time – or at all. The call was from my mother-in-law letting us know that that my father-in-law was fast losing his fight with cancer. So my husband and I canceled everything, booked flights, and less than 12 hours later found ourselves next to his side.
We were grateful to have a few days with him where we were able to share smiles and laughter. But in a matter of less than a week, he was gone. A week after that we sat with hundreds of people in a funeral home celebrating a life that was cut short too soon.
And so one moment I was ticking things off my to-do list. The next moment I was saying goodbye to someone I loved dearly. A person who had been a foundation to my husband, my daughter, and his entire family for a generation.
When these types of things happen to us, they shake us to our core. They remind us how temporary everything really is. And they are uncomfortable as hell.
So here I sit (surrounded by to-do lists by the way) asking myself: Am I really l-i-v-i-n-g life? Or am I actually living my to-do list? Will I somehow regret how I have lived my life? Is it time I revisit this daily grind?
These aren’t the most comfortable of questions because at some level we know we aren’t living life as fully as we would like. Most of us stay firmly rooted in the day-to-day grind because it is predictable and safe. And maybe we stay there because we can avoid feeling uncomfortable especially about how impermanent things really are.
But when we are deep in our routines not living our life, there can be consequences. Several years ago, I came across an article written by a hospice nurse sharing what she described as an amazing gift to spend the final days and weeks with the dying. She listened as people looked back and reflected over their lives . After six years at hospice, she found that while each person’s story was different, they shared a number of common regrets.
- They wish they had loved more deeply.
- They wish they had lived their own dream.
- They wish they had spent less time working.
- They wish they had allowed themselves to enjoy life more
- They wish they had not been so afraid to take risks.
What this hospice nurse heard from the dying are gifts of wisdom for all of us.
So in this moment, I have decided to wake up from my daily grind, remove myself from the daily routine, and remember how James “Jim” Kalbfleisch lived his life fully. I want to open myself up to the vulnerability of life and remind myself my to-do list will always be there for me. But my family will not.
Waking up from the fog of our to-do list isn’t always easy. Shutting off email and putting down our smart phones is not what we do instinctively. So it takes a little more effort (for me at least) to just be present. But when we do put aside our to-do list, here is what can happen. We can:
Love more deeply.
Live our dreams and follow a path of our choosing.
Spend less time working.
Enjoy life more.
Not be afraid to take risks.
Together, my daughter and I will continue to talk about the gifts that her grandfather gave to us including brilliant memories of fun and laughter that we will never ever forget. And for myself, I am grateful to be reminded that life is fleeting so that I may live it more today.
We are always getting ready to live but never living. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson