Sunday, July 20, 2014

At least for this moment, it’s not too late to start living

From today's Times and News-Star

Use the one chance you’ve been given,
’Cause once you’re in the ground and cold,
It’s too late to start livin’,
You see you can’t dig out of the hole.
n “The Hole,” writers, Skip Ewing and James Dean Hicks

Country crooner Randy Travis recorded that song in 1998, about a guy digging for happiness, as we all do. Whether we get there or not depends less on what our shovel is – a guitar, a typewriter, business -- and more on how we use it.

Either way, none of us gets to dig forever. But in the meantime, every spade of dirt thrown gets us closer to either the bottom or the top.

How often we think of that theme depends on circumstances. Human nature’s like that. No one wakes up thinking about The End, but there are days when many of us go to bed thinking about it, because the day decided to carpet bomb us with the question of mortality.

Earlier this summer my friend Jimmy was driving to watch his son play golf when his car flipped several times on interstate. He wasn’t hurt; the car sure was; she’s a goner.

Jimmy said he was glad of three things: that he didn’t get killed, that he didn’t kill anybody, and that no one was riding with him because there’s no way they could have survived. To make matters worse, he felt sorry for his brother, who was in the car immediately behind Jimmy and witnessed it all.

Jimmy didn’t tell me until two weeks after it happened because he knows I don’t take bad news well. At all. I am a realist who has a hard time dealing with reality, if that makes any sense. But reality is that people we love end up dying. Or we do.

Last week I stood at the grave of my uncle, who passed away less than two years ago. Had he lived another month, he’d have been 82. Seems unfair that he’s gone, because he’d loved having the family around at the annual reunions and because he so loved laughing and being the “patriarch.” But beside him is the headstone of a grandson, a little boy who never reached age 6.

Who knows why that was.

In late June a friend missed an annual weekend get-together because of gall bladder surgery. Except when the surgeons made the incision, they found stomach cancer. Our friend lived three more weeks, and was buried at age 62 last Saturday, a day of the week he’d long ago reserved for covering ball games and cracking jokes while working late. Another friend described him as the most inherently decent man you could ever meet, and the funeral as the most perfect one he’d ever attended. Still, it was a funeral.

We never know.

Finally, last Friday another friend, a pastor for more than 30 years now, walked away from the gravesite of a newborn. He said later, “I never thought in a million years I’d ever have to bury my granddaughter.”

Even when the time is long, the time is short. The temptation is to dig for the wrong things or the wrong way, all the while thinking we have all the time in the world. Maybe today we can choose, for at least a small while, just to be happy breathing air, to be happy being alive, while it’s still not too late to start living.