Imagine that you were given the gift – or curse – of knowing exactly when you are going to die.
You find yourself in the otherworldly office of the Curator of Life and Death. You’re shown to a chair while the Curator sits across from you. The Curator is big, and you are small. You feel insignificant and young as your feet barely skim the floor. Between you, on a desk, lies an office-type calendar. It’s a month-at-a-glance kind of deal, but the Curator has given you the ability to see every month without having to turn a single spiral-bound page. It’s filled with boxes, one for each day of your life. You note the first day, the starting point – your birthday – and the last day. (Oh crap, you think. There it is.) Then you take a closer look at all the boxes between these two bookends. Some are partially, or entirely, filled with Things You Cannot Avoid such as sleep, household chores, time spent in traffic or at the grocery store and doing your taxes. You also notice there are quite a few boxes that are already accounted for in other ways, affected by illness perhaps, and there are more of these later on. But for now, there is no illness, just sleep and chores and a daily commute. What strikes you is when you see them all laid out like this, is that there is a fixed number. There is a limit. You don’t get extras, unfortunately, but what you do get is control. You have been given the gift of free will. As the captain of your ship you get to decide how you fill up those little boxes.
So here’s the question, do you fill them with Netflix reruns, doing favours for ungrateful recipients, doing the laundry when your kids are perfectly capable of doing it themselves, or, do you fill those days with the people you love and doing the things you love as much as time and money will allow?
Why are we unable to view each day as the gift it truly is? Why is it only when faced with a diagnosis, an accident, or a funeral do we take the time to step back and evaluate the way we spend the limited amount of time we have available to us? If we had the power to see how many boxes we have, would we fill them differently?
A new mantra popped into my head last week: Live By Doing. This is something I’ve been feeling for a while but hadn’t really put into words until now.
If I was lying on a couch in a therapist’s office I’m sure he or she would tell me this is all a direct result of a funeral I attended recently. This person was only 48 when she died. She was married, with two kids. Had she lived enough? Seen enough? The answer has to be no, since she had only lived about half of her life. I haven’t been able to shake the tragedy of it, the unfairness. Maybe her death is a wake-up call, a reminder to stop putting things off.
She didn’t have a magic calendar. She probably assumed, like we all do, that she had an endless string of calendar squares, a lifetime of sitting on the back porch, enjoying a glass of wine with her family. But she didn’t.
Sarah went kayaking with a friend yesterday. (Sidebar: I am thrilled that this is the kind of neighbourhood we live in. A friend’s family has two kayaks and offered to drive them down the beach for a wee jaunt along the river, which is only a five-minute drive away.) The three remaining family members went on a bike ride to Mud Lake, an easy walking trail that is known for its avian population. It took a wee bit of convincing to get our eldest to come with us – too much homework you know – but she came along in the end. Mark pumped up our bike tires, we assembled our snacks and water bottles, and off we went.
We couldn’t have asked for better weather. It was sunny and clear and although the wind was in our faces for a time, the ride was a relatively easy one along the Ottawa River.
We arrived and locked up our bikes. As I waited for everyone to assemble I had a feeling I was being watched. I wasn’t wrong:
We followed the path into the woods. It wasn’t long before the birds started making themselves known to us. Within a very short time we spotted a couple of wild turkeys, a white-breasted nuthatch, woodpeckers, red-winged blackbirds, black-capped chickadees, a variety of ducks, an egret, and some overly friendly Canada geese:
Our biggest “find” turned out to be an Eastern screech owl. It wasn’t hard to spot. We simply followed the crowd:
Our birding skills are fairly basic (in fact, I had to ask a guy about that owl) but we do appreciate nature and can identify a handful of birds, perhaps more than most people. I’d never seen an owl in the wild, so it was a pretty cool experience for me.
It’s something that wouldn’t have happened if we were sitting at home. That being said, if I am honest, I know I have to count myself among those people who feel absolutely wrung out by the end of the day. Sometimes I barely have enough energy to lie on the couch and eat popcorn. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t actually take a lot of time, money, or energy to get busy living. The whole experience of biking out to Mud Lake only took a couple of hours. When we got home, the eldest went back to homework. Mark mixed up a pitcher of Sangria and the two of us sat on the back porch. It felt especially good to do so because I felt like we had accomplished something. I felt like I had lived… and filled in one of those calendar squares with something worthwhile.
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