I sat in front of my computer Wednesday morning for what seemed like hours … stunned.
It had been months since I’d received an email from my high-school buddy and college roommate. He’s lived outside Miami for a long time now, and we touch base every so often.
On Wednesday, he sent me some really bad news. Apparently, one of our friends from high school was in a bad car accident early that day — and she wasn’t alone, either. Her husband and four children were with her during a trip from Connecticut to New Jersey for the long weekend.
At last report, our friend was in critical condition, the children were all okay — but her husband had just died.
My heart sank to a new low as I realized all over again just how precious life is. But it also conjured up a story I’d been given many years ago, and I’ll try to re-enact it here …
My brother-in-law opened the bottom drawer of my sister’s dresser and lifted out a tissue-wrapped package.
“This,” he said, “is not a slip. It is lingerie.”
He discarded the tissue and handed me the item. It was exquisite — silk, handmade and trimmed with a cobweb of lace. The price-tag with an astronomical figure on it was still attached.
“Mary bought this the first time we went to New York … at least seven years ago. She never wore it. She was saving it for a special occasion,” my brother-in-law said. “Well, I guess this is the special occasion.”
He took the lingerie from me and put it on the bed with the other clothes we were taking to the mortician. His hands lingered on the soft material for a moment, then he slammed the dresser drawer shut and turned to me.
“Don’t EVER save anything for a special occasion,” he said. “Every day you are alive is a special occasion.”
I remembered those words through the funeral and the days that followed when I helped my brother-in-law and niece attend to all the sad choices that follow an expected death. I thought about them on the plane returning home from the Midwest town where my sister’s family lives.
I thought about all the things that she hadn’t seen or heard or done. I thought about the things she had done without realizing they were special.
I’m still thinking about my brother-in-law’s words, and they’ve changed my life. I’m reading more and cleaning less. I’m sitting on the deck and admiring the view without fussing over the weeds in the garden. I’m spending more time with my own family and friends, and less time in committee meetings.
Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experiences to savor, not to endure. I’m trying to recognize these moments now and cherish them.
I’m not “saving” anything. We use our good china and crystal for every special event — like losing a pound, getting the sink unstopped and the first magnolia blossoming.
I wear my good sports coat to get groceries if I feel like it. My theory now is, if I look prosperous, I can shell out $25.70 for one small bag of food without wincing.
I’m not “saving” my good cologne for special parties — clerks in hardware stores and Walmart have noses that function as well as my partying friends.
“Someday” and “one of these days” are losing their grip on my vocabulary. If it’s worth seeing or hearing or doing, I want to see, hear and do it now.
I’m not sure what my sister would have done had she known that she wouldn’t be here for the tomorrows we all take for granted. I think she would have called family members and a few close friends more.
She might even have called a few former friends to apologize and mend fences for past squabbles.
I like to think she would have gone out for a Chinese dinner — her favorite food. But I’m only guessing.
It’s those little things left undone that would make me angry if I knew my hours were limited. Angry because I put off seeing good friends whom I was going to get in touch with — someday. Angry because I hadn’t written certain letters that I intended to write — one of these days. Angry and sorry that I didn’t tell my wife and daughters often enough how much I truly loved them.
I’m trying very hard not to put off, hold back or save anything that would add laughter and luster to our lives.
And every morning, when I open my eyes, I tell myself that it is a special day.
The bottom line is this (and I stole this from a country song): “You’ve got to dance like nobody’s watching, and love like it’s never going to hurt.”
Especially at this special time of year, try to be thoroughly thankful for life and those who are part of it.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-506-3023 or [email protected]