**Fair warning: this post is a bit scattered with my thoughts written simply as they occur to me. If you choose to read, please bear with me 🙂
6 months from today (almost to the day), I will be 25 years old. A quarter century of my life will be gone, just like that. It’s amazing how the days, weeks and even years are passing faster and faster all the time. As May approaches, another school year is gone, another summer approaches, followed by Fall, Winter and Spring again, and again, and again- an endless cycle of time. But, it is honestly scary to think about the end–to realize that there can be nothing but an end to my time here on Earth. When will that time be? Only Jesus knows, but He clearly tells us in His Word, that our lives are nothing but a mist that appears for a while and vanishes. He is very clear that death will come, and that one day, He too will come for us, “like a thief in the night.” None of us knows when that time may be. I know that I, for one, am not prepared, at least according to my human definition of preparedness. And that,in my admittedly limited understanding, terrifies me on the rare occasions when I allow my thoughts to venture in that direction.
Luke has a 12-mile ruck march dark and early, so he is already asleep, and as I sit here alone in a rare moment of silence and solitude, I cannot help but wonder about my life. As morbid as it may sound, I’ve been extremely aware of death in the last few days; it bombards me in the news, in social media. Five Georgia Southern University students were killed this week in a tragic car crash; their lives ended just like that. Whatever legacy they were meant to leave simply is; there is no more time to do more, to do less, to take back harsh words or to provide encouragement to someone in need. A famous artist died this week, an ESPN Sportscaster, a friend’s cousin, another friend’s grandparent; heck, I just had to turn off Steel Magnolias, a movie I love, on the rare occasion that I get the TV all to myself, because I simply cannot stand the thought of more death at the moment!
With death seemingly all around, I could not help but feel so sad for those families who lost loved ones this week (especially the family of my Alpha Omicron Pi sorority sister), along with a strange, seemingly wrong mix of relief that I am still here (at least for now), along with the fear and realization that my time could also come just as unexpectedly. I may not have as long as we think based on my age, general good health, etc.It really hits close to home in my heart when anyone dies, but most especially those who die young, their light simply snuffed out seemingly before their time.
Death is an interesting beast in that it does not discriminate; young, old, rich, poor, educated or ignorant, the same fate ultimately befalls us all. And, there is nothing anyone can do to stop it; when it is your time, you simply go. There is a wealthy physician I am acquainted with who recently lost his daughter (also a physician), in an unexpected, rapid bout of cancer; despite all of their combined learning, education and success, despite all of the treatments they tried, the woman died at age 32, leaving behind 2 young children and a bereft husband. The idea of death is as scary as it is real; there is even a name for the “phobia” or fear of death– thanatophobia. Psychologists say we all experience this to some extent; it is natural or normal even as long as it is not crippling or interfering with the activities of normal life. But, I would venture to say it is abnormal not to ponder on death or the afterlife at least at some point.
My first and only near death experience thus far was when an EF-4 tornado hit Tuscaloosa in April of 2011 (almost 4 years ago to date). At that time, while I was huddled in a closet with my roommate and several other people, 2 college students died within a couple hundred yards of me. With the storm bearing down and the glass shattering in our apartment complex, I felt an absolutely soul-crushing, physically paralyzing fear of death. It seemed unavoidable in that moment; there was no time for goodbyes, no time for anything–my fingers were simply frozen on the keyboard of my cellphone where I had been frantically texting my Mom and Luke; time seemed frozen in one horrible moment–the end. And, then, time resumed, for me. We slowly ventured outside to our mangled cars, to the trees lying in the parking lot, to witness the entire ghastly scene that transformed 15th Street–a thriving metropolitan area only hours earlier now shrouded in an eerie silence–nothing was left unscathed that day. Although restoration and rebuilding stages in Tuscaloosa have long since completed, that experience is indelibly etched in my memory. I remember all of the vivid details of that day like it was yesterday, including the mingling of guilt and relief that I survived the ordeal while those my age and younger, only a few yards away, did not. All I remember thinking at that time was that I was so grateful, as I was not ready to die.
Interestingly, I was reading about a research study on more than 1,000 elderly people–those who are statistically nearer to death’s door than any of the rest of us. Surprisingly, none of those studied reported feeling the panicky feeling of fear, a dread of death, a desire to run from the inevitable. Some even described that panicky feeling as one reserved for the young with the perception of so much life left before them–and I think they must be right.
Right now, I am terrified to die. I have no problem admitting that; not because I do not know where I am going, but because there is SO MUCH I want to do in this life first. I want to have 50+ years with Luke, have children, travel the world together, write books, become a professor… I want to make some marked difference in the world, something that will leave a real impact–my legacy for Jesus. So far, with a quarter of a century gone, I have not accomplished everything I had planned. I am not where I thought I would be at almost-25. In many ways, I am in a better place than I ever dreamed. For instance, I never pictured marrying an Army officer, or moving to yet another part of Alabama, or managing a medical office. Those opportunities were given to me only by the grace of God.
Our lives are nothing if not unpredictable; Luke’s military service doubly ensures that for our family. We are here just as long as God–and the Army– wills it. And, then, our life will change again, and we will move and start over in a new place. With that comes, fear. I fear never living in the same place long enough to make any real impact; I fear growing apart from my friends and family who make up so much of my life here. I fear change; thus, I fear death–the one real change I know that I will someday face, all on my own. It may seem strange for me to admit this, with my “whole life ahead of me,” but it is how I am feeling. I do not feel anxious about this all the time, but here and there, once every few months I will see an obituary or a Facebook post about a loved one who has passed away; I am then reminded that life is a precious gift meant to be treasured. But, the idea of death again disappears from my cognizance, and I go back to becoming comfortable with the idea that mediocrity is OK; there is so much time left, after all.
And then, I am reminded again: what am I, but a slowly vanishing mist? Here today; forgotten tomorrow. Time stops for no one and nothing. I am not to squander a single hour, a single minute. There are so many songs about living like you are dying, the idea that time goes by faster than you think, and that today could be your last day. Yet, most of my days appear rather unremarkable to me, at least on the surface–one blurring into another, going to work, helping patients, inputting documents, supervising employees, coming home, fixing dinner, doing homework, going to sleep. Some days it all seems as futile as a goldfish’s journey around the bowl, round and round as one day becomes the next. And yet, some days, I know I am impacting SOMEONE, even just a little bit. I have learned to appreciate the small things, to find joy and purpose in those small remarkable moments in an otherwise unremarkable day.
For example, a couple of days ago, a patient bit my head off over something innocuous. No matter how much I tried to help her, she was rude, nasty and sarcastic in return. She gave me a really hard time over a simple policy. I was just trying to do my job. I was kind to her throughout the whole interaction, but when I went back to my office, I almost burst into tears at her rudeness. It seemed so unfair. I bit my lip and put it behind me after a couple of moments, determined to go back to my pleasant morning. But then, half an hour later, I got a phone call from our receptionist. I was told a patient’s parent wanted to speak with me–the exact same person. Every part of me dreaded going up there; I briefly considered asking my colleague to go instead of me, or to at least go with me for moral support. But, finally, I said a quick prayer and headed up there, with a smile on my face. I walked over to this lady, and was rewarded with (miracle of all miracles!) a hug and an apology for her behavior! She thanked me for my help. That made my day, in that it was so unexpected. If I live to be 100, I do not think I will ever forget that interaction. Apparently my grace and kindness made some sort of impact, enough to change this person’s behavior for the better. I want to believe that this is why we are all here after all–to love and honor others, even when they least deserve it, just as God honors us.
In the end, I would imagine my purpose and journey in this lifetime is nowhere near as grand as my childhood idealizations of “success.” And, that is OK. Whatever God wills for my life, I will happily do. He is the potter; I am simply the clay.
Sometimes, my mere human mind wants to rush everything–hit all the big milestones as quickly as possible– just to be sure I “get the chance” to do everything I ever imagined. YOLO; that sort of thing.
I guess that is where trust and faith come in. I have to trust in the Lord’s has plans for me, which is why I am still here. When He no longer has plans for me, I will go home, to Heaven. Heaven is so abstract and mysterious (exactly as it is meant to be), and I cannot begin to fathom the concept. This sounds infantile, but I don’t want to be anywhere without Luke, without my mom and Dad and brother and friends. I don’t want to leave behind life as I know it because I am so incredibly blessed, just the way it is. Right now, with my amazing husband, I am in my own version of heaven, or rather the best of life I have ever known. Thus, I cannot imagine what could be better. Heaven is simply beyond my comprehension. Thus, I am scared to know that all of this will end one day. I don’t want to think of the years of my marriage rushing by, just as the first one did, to picture myself or Luke exactly as our grandparents all ultimately ended up–one without the other, the shoe without its mate.
And yet, who can stop it? The Bible clearly tells us that by worrying we cannot add a single hour to our lives. So for tonight, I suppose I am done meditating on life and its meaning. I am nowhere closer to figuring it all out than I was when I started, but perhaps through prayer and a good night’s sleep I will have a more youthful outlook on the morrow–after all it is Friday!
If you are reading this, God bless you and yours!