“To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else. ” Emily Dickinson

At the end of last week, I looked at my calendar and noticed that today would be one of those rare days in the middle of the academic term – a day with no meetings, no classes to teach, no conference calls – in other words a day to concentrate and move bigger projects forward.  Perhaps get that article that’s so close to ready to submit out the door, draft the new grant proposal, read for the new syllabus, etc. etc.  What bliss, the gift of found time.   Then I saw, to my horror, that it was a teacher workday. Not for my older son who, like his mother, likes nothing better than a day left to his own devices but instead a day off for my younger son who loves company and prefers his parents to all others.

January and February are the bane of parents’ lives.  Between honoring statesman, teacher workdays, snow days, and illness it’s almost impossible to do anything other than stay afloat work-wise.  Yet, my little boy was delighted.  “Mama, I will make a tent in your office.”  “Mama, where shall we go for our special lunch together?”  “Mama, are there snacks in your office?”  And so my illusion of productivity evaporated. I said the right things, “Yes, you can make a tent.  “Yes, we’ll have a special lunch.”  “It will be so much fun.”     All the while mourning my lost day…

Last night upon arriving home, an email to the whole School of Social Work came from our Dean saying that a colleague, barely older than I am, had died suddenly.  She is not someone I know well.  We chatted at meetings occasionally; we were Facebook friends; I sat by her last week at faculty meeting.  But there is no deep relationship between us like there is for others here.  So this news left me sad for those that will mourn her deeply and thoughtful rather than truly grief-stricken.  When recounting the news to my husband I articulated the obvious question – how exactly should we live knowing it could all end at any moment?  In his grounded, clear eyed way, he replied simply, “There is only one way to live your life” and left it at that.  I’ve found myself trying to fill in the second half of that sentence ever since.  “As if each day is your last…as if you have all the time in the world…doing what you love most…concentrating on what’s really important.”  The clichés are endless and not very helpful.

If I really knew what day would be my last day on earth, I know exactly what I’d do.  Having planned for it, telling family and friends how much they’ve meant to me etc., I’d head with my husband and kids to Cape Lookout.  We’d stay on our sailboat and see the morning’s unspeakably beautiful first light.  I’d drink coffee and hope that is was a day that schools of dolphins would surround the boat in silent greeting as they sometimes do.  We’d spend the day diving off the boat, finding shells and sea creatures on the shore, feeling the sand and sun, and watching the sun drop behind the dunes.  And then witness the stars appearance as the sky becomes a deeper and deeper blue…

But it’s February and there is no sailing to be done.  Just me, the tent, and its small inhabitant in my office.  It may be the last day but I pray it is not.   If it is, perhaps the best I can do is to make it a good day for others I meet along the way. From what I hear, my lost colleague was good at that:  an encourager, quick with a warm smile, a considerate listener.  And so to honor her and those I care for who mourn her deeply, just for today I’m going to really enjoy that special lunch; be grateful for the tent in my office; be patient with the 15 requests for a snack, water, to play games on my phone. I’ll take a minute to tell friends and family I love them; be encouraging and kind to others I come in contact with; hug my children; appreciate that man I so fortunately married; and hope that there is time to finish the paper, teach another class, write another grant, and find pleasure in all the other tasks, big and small, that add depth and dimension to our days.

 

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