Right now, in the G wing of Emory University Hospital, my father-in-law is fighting for his life. He is 78. My brother-in-law, Chris, sent out an email yesterday that I thought was wonderful and so I am going to copy his words here.
I'm kind of just getting my day started. My brother called at 12:30 this morning to let me know that our dad had been admitted to the ER at Emory and had nearly gone into cardiac arrest when he arrived.
We got there about 2:00 and didn't meet with a doctor until 6:30. He has been stabilized and is on a ventilator. They have him heavily sedated so he won't try to remove the tube.
Dad is 78 and has had COPD for several years but is in generally robust health, so he has that in his favor. As of this afternoon, his blood gasses are improving steadily and the prognosis seems generally hopeful.
The main reason for his distress is that he would not go to the doctor at the first signs of trouble. He thought he was experiencing a passing episode and would shake it off in a few hours. By the time he decided to go, he was in more trouble than he realized.
I add this detail for all those of us who are medical procrastinators - myself included. Whatever you've been putting off till later, make the appointment today, okay? May a word to the wise be sufficient.
Please pray that his lungs will continue to improve and remember how to do their job so he can been weaned from the ventilator. And please pray that once he pulls through - Lord willing - the conga line of friends and family who are ready to smack him for being obstinate with his health will err on the side of being gracious and loving and remember how grateful we are to have him.
He and my stepmom are planning for their full retirement at the end of '09 and we'd be very grateful to the Lord if he allows them the opportunity to have their romp around the country together. Still, this is a timely reminder that while we may make our plans but the outcome is ultimately in our Father's hands.
Assuming I'm like most people, we tend not to number our days, or better put, we tend to over-number them in our minds. If we're honest with ourselves, we take for granted that we have 70, 80, 90 years. Against that backdrop, a few days of workaholism, a few moments of procrastination or inertia don't seem too sinister. But our culture, our flesh and our enemy conspire to help us turn those moments and days into weeks and months and years before we even know what has happened.
A single day out of ten or twenty thousand available in the future is cheap. A single day out of your last seven is beyond value. We usually assume the 20,000 until someone tells us it's less - assuming we're even given the luxury of a warning. Maybe we work a few too many hours and call it wise planning for future security. Maybe we take a few too many naps and tell opurselves there's plenty of time before the harvest. Whatever future our minds are fixed on while our tomorrows become yesterdays, it is astonishingly simple to lose the reality and beauty of today, no matter what it holds.
We often hear people lament the things they never did or said, relationships they chose not to pursue, missed opportunities. It seems like all of these are symptoms of not being present at the moment of choice. "Should I tell her how I feel right now?" Our minds jump to the future, no matter how near or far wondering what she "will" think. And in those brief moments of considering the ramifications on an imagined future, we miss the moment, and it passes un-experienced and un-lived. An un-lived moment is an incredible waste.
To be sure, we each have a list - maybe a long one - of things we wish we hadn't done or said. Speaking for myself, when I make a quick inventory of regrets and break them up into "Wish I Had" and "Wish I Hadn't" lists, I realize that they carry very different weights. Most of the things I wish I hadn't done or said have, in the long run, led to opportunities for understanding, healing or forgiveness that would not likely have happened without some seminal moment or event.
Indeed, the one consistent characteristic is that they were things I actually did, that I actually said. For better or for worse, they were nonetheless moments that I actually lived, spoke and acted. And while there are a few that will forever remain dark and sordid pictures in my past, the great majority taught me something valuable about myself, about God, about others or the world around me that I may not have learned otherwise.
In contrast the "Wish I Had" list holds a surprising number of items that still haunt me, that still leave me wondering what would've happened, what could've happened. There is no recourse for the things that never actually happened. Only a foggy hole in my memory with nothing to fill it.
The other distinction is that those items on the "Wish I Hadn't" list propel me to live differently and live in the moment. Most of the "Wish I Had's" pull me into longer periods of lingering in the past - stealing even more moments from the present. It's like they're doubly destructive.
Truth is, I have missed lots and lots of todays with my dad, always assuming that I could have another one tomorrow if I wanted to. Many of those tomorrows became yesterdays before I even realized it. I hope I have more opportunities to be present with him in the truest sense of the word. But not knowing whether I will or not casts that pile of un-lived yesterdays in sharp relief. It's staggering.
I am filled with the same desire to truly be present with my wife and kids, my mom, brothers, nieces and nephews, friends and cowworkers. In short, I'd like to actually be present in the moments that make up a lifetime, not straining to focus on tomorrow's goals or future fears or obsessed with some triumph, hurt or sorrow from the past.
No new or original thoughts here...They're just real and personal in a way that's new for me. Sometimes it takes a shock to the system to see things with clarity if only for a moment. This is my feeble attempt to share my shock with you in the hopes that it might help you actually experience the gift that is this very day.
Be goofy. Be sappy. Be corny. Be honest. Be fearlessly yourself.
Sorry for the long note. Didn't have time for a short one.
Strangely enough, in the E wing of Emory University Hospital, a friend of mine,
Stuart Smartt, is also fighting for his life. He's 31. He has cancer. A form of Lymphoma.
If you have read this, please pray for Martin and for Stuart. Both of these men, 47 years apart in age, are remarkably wonderful, engaging, inspring men to be around and we want them with us as long as possible.