Have you heard Brad Paisley’s song that proclaims a long list of lasts (called “Last Time for Everything”)? There’s a last time for wearing a tux in a gym, he says. A last time for spending all day on the lake with your granddad. A last time for biscuits and gravy at momma’s house. And so on.
This is why I take so many pictures. A person does run the risk of taking so many that he or she actually misses key moments, so I try to remember that. But I think I’d rather take too many than not enough.
This past week, I attended the funeral of a good friend’s mother. My friend and I go way back. The last time I saw her mom alive was two years ago at my friend’s father’s funeral. Amazingly, she recognized me, even though we hadn’t seen each other in probably thirty years. Sadly, I don’t have any pictures of us together.
A few years ago, I posed for a picture with a buddy in his driveway at his going away party before he served a tour in the Navy overseas. I couldn’t help but wonder if it would be the last time we would ever see each other (I wrote more about it here). Thankfully, he came back safely. So, we’ll have a different last time.
Every Saturday when I visit my 81-year-old mom, I hug her and tell her I love her as I’m heading out the door. Then I pose with her and take several selfies. I try not to think about the fact that each photo could be our last. But when that time comes, I’ll treasure that photo.
How do you try to capture lasts? Memory? Photos? Journal? Something else?
No matter how much you try, it's difficult to avoid the comparison game.
I joined a gym a few weeks ago so I could walk on the treadmill during the winter months. Walking is sort of my thing, mostly because I'm 51 and multiple injuries have stopped me from doing much else. But walking is good.
I'm not really a treadmill person, though. So I don't have a baseline. I initially set my pace at 2.7 miles per hour and walked for forty minutes. I felt pretty good about that until three days into my new routine, I had a callous the size of Vermont on my "good" foot due to an insert. The callous was so big that I went to see a doctor, thinking it might be something else. Nope. Just a callous. That was probably the most embarrassing doctor visit I've ever taken.
So, I tweaked my shoe setup and set a new pace: 2.5 miles per hour for forty minutes. I felt pretty good about that, too. Until one day, a guy on a treadmill to my right was jogging sideways, and a guy on my left was actually jogging backward. My brain can't even comprehend jogging backward on a treadmill. Which direction would you step? I have no idea.
Since then, I've seen people running at 7.0 miles per hour at an incline that would probably cause Jillian Michaels to gasp for breath three minutes in.
Meanwhile, I trudge along at 2.5 miles per hour while holding on to both handrails for dear life. And you know what? I'm okay with that. I've been listening to sermons, podcasts, and music - feeding my soul while working my body. I'm not much of a multi-tasker, but that's a pretty good combination if I do say so myself.
If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed this Christmas season, for whatever reason, know that there will always be people who can run backward on a treadmill, or seem to have the lungs to conquer Mt. Everest, but your task is your task. Your life is your life. Set your course and walk your path. Or run. Or sprint. However you conquer it, make sure you enjoy the journey.
Richard Bach one said, "The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it." I think he was saying that we all have a finite number of moments and we when we live in a distracted manner, it comes with a price. We miss what is right in front of us and we have one less moment to live.
Distracted driving has been getting its due. You see it every day on the road. So do I. But what about distracted living? It doesn't quite have the same negative connotation, does it? Mostly because the only one who is paying the price for it is the person engaged in it, but I don't think we should overlook the detriments of distracting living.
I visit my 81-year-old mother on Saturday afternoons and I have dinner with her most Thursday nights. That's 104 opportunities, with a few exceptions for various reasons, to spend time with her. I know those opportunities will cease one day, so I'm trying to be fully present during those moments, setting my phone down so we can engage.
This fall, my friends and I will have maybe 10 opportunities to sit around the fire pit on Friday evenings. We'll cook some burgers, play a little music, listen to the fire snap and pop, and talk. Some of the best conversations I've had have come during those moments. I don't want to check out by thinking about my concerns for the upcoming week.
My great-nephew is three years old already. Every time I see him (one or twice a week), he's saying or doing something new. We laugh, sing, play, and snuggle. That won't always be the case.
The best way for me to pay for these lovely moments is to enjoy them. To enjoy them, I have to be fully present for them. That's my goal. If you see me living otherwise, remind me about what I'm missing.
I have several friends and family members who are experiencing chronic pain right now. As someone who lives with it myself, it hurts my heart to know what they are enduring. But I've also learned that pain has a cleansing element.
It makes us less self-reliant, less proud. And it gives us a small taste of what Jesus endured on our behalf. One nun who suffered two strokes and multiple other health issues, believed that every day she suffered near the end of her life was for God. In a way, she was offering her suffering up as a living sacrifice.
With that said, I'm all about doing whatever I can to help lessen someone's pain. One of the problems with pain is, it limits your ability to do what everybody else takes for granted, like going to the grocery store, renewing your driver's license, finding transportation to the doctor before and after procedures, replacing broken appliances and so much more.
People with chronic pain not only face medical restrictions, like not lifting more than ten pounds, but they also don't feel up to tasks everybody else takes for granted.
Last week, I was in a lot of pain after oral surgery and I was on my way to pick up my niece to take her to my mom's house for a visit. There's a stretch of road on the way that has 18 traffic lights. I'm pretty sure I hit at least 15 of them. By the time I arrived, I was a bear. My head was pounding and all I wanted to do was get out of the car so I could lie down somewhere.
That ailment is temporary. But I also have a permanent condition with one of my legs. Long story short, I had a blood clot after surgery in 1997 and it destroyed my leg. Every day, I have about three good hours (meaning, hours in which I don't necessarily have to elevate my leg before it starts to hurt) and I have to tell you, I'm thankful for those three hours because you can do so many activities in that time period - go to a movie, or out to eat, or to a coffee shop to meet with friends.
I walk with a slight limp and it always reminds me to be grateful for what I do have. I can still buy my own groceries, drive to my own doctor appointments, meet friends and family for dinner and attend worship. Of course, I know that a day is coming when that won't be true. It'll be true for most of us at some point. But I hope that when that day comes, I'll have the same attitude the nun had, knowing God is with me in each broken step and that I'll offer that brokenness up to God.
Until then, I'll walk with God. And I'll ask for help when I need it. And I'll offer help when others need it. Leaning on each other isn't a burden. It's the blessing of relationship.
"I've started the medicine, so you should be feeling happy soon."
"Sounds good." Fifteen seconds passed. "Whoa, I'm feeling it."
I woke up thirty minutes later with gauze in the side of my mouth and no pain, thankful to have a rotten tooth finally removed from my mouth. It's been giving me problems for six or seven years.
A nurse wheeled me out to my buddy's car and we were on our way to my mom's house. The oral surgeon's office was insistent that someone stay with me for twenty-four hours since I'd had anesthesia.
It seemed like overkill to me, but who was I to argue? I'm pretty sure I asked my buddy the same questions about my aftercare five times before I finally got to my mom's house.
I was still feeling the effects of the anesthesia when I stepped inside her house, but I was happy to have the procedure done with. I'd been dreading it for a couple of days.
You know how doctors or dentists speed through all of things that could go wrong before you undergo a procedure? Yeah, this one did that, too.
"You could experience a dry socket, excessive bleeding, require immediate medical attention, or even death."
I'm exaggerating a bit, but just a bit.
What choice do you have but to place a check mark next to each item that could spell your demise? He who writes the contract wins. So, after signing my life over, I sort of expected the worst, mostly because I usually fall into the supposed small percentage of people who experience problems post-surgery.
I ended up with a blood clot after having my right Achilles tendon surgically repaired. My nose currently has a deviated septum and a hole in the septum as a result of nasal surgery - something that requires plastic surgery if I ever want it to be repaired. And I've had countless other difficulties post-surgery.
I popped a couple of Percocets and hoped for the best.
I didn't feel much pain after that. Maybe it was the Percocet. Or maybe it was all of the Family Feud episodes I watched with my mom afterward. They were a nice distraction.
I know it's a man-thing, but being taken care of when you aren't feeling well is nice. Sure, I could have made my own macaroni cup that I somehow managed to slither down the right side of my mouth. But it probably tasted better because she made it. By the way, when you haven't eaten in fourteen hours, a microwaved macaroni cup tastes like filet mignon at the best steakhouse around. And that cold can of caffeine free Diet Pepsi that chased it down was to die for.
Mom's cat, Clanci (who I affectionately call the Clanc-meister), joined us as we watched TV. She didn't care that I was half zombie. She wanted me to pet her, so I obliged. She flip-flopped in her condo next to my chair as I rubbed her head, neck, and belly. Maybe it was the medicine talking, but I felt about as lucky and blessed as I guy could.
I had a good friend who was willing to take time out from his day off to drive me to my appointment, wait for me while I had the procedure done, and then drive me across town to my mom's house where she was ready to care for me.
When someone cares enough about you to go out of his or her way to tend to your needs, it means something. It means you matter more to that person than their immediate needs or wants. And that's pretty special.
Lee Warren is a freelance writer and editor who has written twelve non-fiction books, one novella and hundreds of articles for various newspapers and magazines as well as edited more than 50 books that currently appear in print. He's a fan of NASCAR, baseball, tennis, books, movies and coffee shops.