All I know for sure is that I didn’t want my kids to see them, even though they knew well that our neighbor had died yesterday morning at the way-too-young age of 54.
It’s why we were all at his house — the four of us and our neighbor Grace — cleaning. We wanted to help his family get the house ready for all the visitors who will be stopping by the next few days.
Of the five of us, I’m the only one who has actually come close to the end of life — two months from it, according to my oncologist. So while Grace cleaned the kitchen, my husband, Pete, did the heavy lifting and my boys dusted the bookshelves, I took the plastic container that his wife had told me I’d find in the garage, and started filling it with medical things: alcohol swabs, a box of latex gloves, medical files from Sloan-Kettering, the signed copy of “The Council of Dads” I had given him, his broken laptop with a LiveStrong sticker affixed to its cover. By the time we finished cleaning, the box was full of proof of his final days and his unfair fight with cancer. I noticed that his wife put it away quickly. Maybe she, too, didn’t want her kids to see it.
We gathered up our cleaning supplies and headed to my mini-van just as the rain started. When we got home, I fell asleep in the chair while the kids watched “Mythbusters.” At dinner, we prayed for our neighbors.
So perhaps I should be out smelling flowers today, but I’m not. I’m going on with life as usual. There’s my son frantically searching for the clean socks I’d left in his room last night. There’s the other one, picking out which European soccer jersey to wear to camp to irk his Welsh soccer coach, a Liverpool fan. Then there’s me driving the camp carpool, with a soccer cleat in my lap and a pen in my mouth, waiting for the next kid’s driveway where I could once again attempt to get the knot out of the cleat’s laces in time for camp drop-off.
But don’t think for a moment that I didn’t notice what was going on behind the scenes. The impossibly beautiful summer morning. The baby deer grazing on someone’s yard. The song on my car radio telling me “it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.”
My son, the artist, sitting quietly in the front seat, trying to ignore all the soccer talk. His “Thanks Mom” when I dropped him off for art class. The silence after they all had left my car and I drove home, alone, through the winding streets of my neighborhood.
This is where I — the one who has been so close to the end of life — am supposed to tell you to treat each day as though it’s your last. Except, if it were mylast, I certainly wouldn’t be tanking up my mini-van for the rest of the week’s carpools. Or putting another load of laundry in the washer. Or clicking “Like” on my friends’ Facebook photos of their weekends at the beach.
Rather, I suggest that you treat every day as though you’ve got a whole lot of them left, precisely because you don’t really know if you do. Go about the everyday, do the drop-offs, get out the knots. Clean the house. Go ahead and get through the stuff that fills your To-Do list, the stuff you’ll forget about once they’re crossed out. Slog, if you must, because that’s perfectly okay. In fact, it’s a luxury not all of us can afford.
Still, every now and then, don’t forget to turn up the radio and listen — really listen — to the lyrics. Notice the deer. Stand in the driveway a moment and breathe in the impossibly beautiful day.
Nap through “Mythbusters,” but say a prayer for someone who needs it.
Race out last minute to art class pick-up, but offer to cook for a sick neighbor.
Pile the laundry on top of the dryer, but stare out the window at the gorgeous red cardinal on the oak tree out front, thinking about your friend who died way too young.
Enjoy the luxury of the everyday. Dash through the supermarket. Reheat last night’s dinner. Whine a little. Live like you have a lot of life ahead, but don’t be entirely too sure of it. Just in case.