In 2005, when I was in my forties, I went from a part-time position in clinical quality improvement to a full-time director position in the corporate office of my health system. I also enrolled in a distance program at Emory to work towards a master’s in public health. I had a feeling of deep unrest and urgency. I believed that there was work I was being called to do and I needed to ready myself for it. I fought for a series of promotions and kept my eye on the political landscape addressing healthcare reform. I so wanted to be a part of that important national conversation, to help create a better-designed health care infrastructure.
Physically, I was not in good shape. It wasn’t only my weight. I drank coffee, cup after cup, to stay awake because I was chronically short of sleep. Even when I did sleep, I had lots of bad dreams. I was completely stressed, viewing almost every decision I made as if it were a life or death matter. I remember frequently getting in my car to go to a meeting and having tears just streaming down my face. I wasn’t crying; I never made a sound or changed my facial expression. My eyes just watered away until I got to my destination and wiped my face.
None of those days mattered to me. My eyes were always looking ahead to what I wanted to accomplish, so the days themselves had no meaning. My one consistent daily joy was the call I always made to my mother on my way home.
“Hi, Mom, it’s Margie,” I would greet her. “How has your day been?”
“Oh, it’s been great,” I remember her replying. “I made cookies today.”
I was baffled. Cookies? That was what made her day great?
I can’t take back those days or live them differently. It makes me sad that I saw so little in those moments with which I was graced. It makes me sad that I was churning so much inside that I probably didn’t have a whole lot left over to give to the people I loved.
In the past week, two friends of mine had lives that suddenly, without warning, went over a cliff. Lives defined one way until the moment when they become forever redefined. My heart weeps for both of these women and for the roads they now walk. They are both strong. They will put one foot in front of another for a time, doing what needs to be done next. Eventually, they will each find a way to face their demons and find a way to survive. More, find a way to be happy again.
Every one of us has to face terrible times. Times when grief is too heavy to bear, when pain lances too sharply to ignore. Should we not, then, find a way to live out each day in all its precious beauty and potential? Not to be sacrificed for the future, but to be appreciated as a moment unto itself, infinite and powerful and pure?
There is so much joy in appreciating the simple. Holding hands with one another, or listening to music or making bread. Walking on a beach at sunset. Sinking into a good book. Talking with a friend. Laughing. Helping someone.
I don’t think you need to be retired to live out each day. But I do think we need to fully embrace each day as a gift and intentionally find ways to unwrap its beauty. Working towards a better future is important and the only way we can create the world we want to see for our children and our children’s children. We just shouldn’t lose sight in the beauty of now.
Perhaps, tomorrow, we should all make cookies. Something that will make us smile and appreciate.