I’ve done it. I’ve dwelled on the negative. I’ve thought about things that make me unhappy. I’ve stressed over things I cannot change. I always have the saying “Don’t sweat the small stuff” in the back of my mind, and I know I should heed that advice. However, it’s easier said than done in some instances, and I end up occupying my mind with worries. I know better than to spend my time doing this. Life is much too short. And over the last few months I’ve been counting my blessings. A lot of bad things have happened to people I know in that time.
Last winter, one of my closest childhood friends (since we met in grade one) was told she had a mass on her breastbone. Obviously she was scared. It terrified her that she might have cancer, and that she might not be around much longer for her 4 year old son. She felt guilty that she would be sad and preoccupied with thoughts of her health during Christmas, and that her son wouldn’t have a special Christmas. She felt terrible that her son might have to see her sick. Thankfully she had her mass removed a few months later, she does not have cancer, and though she has to have regular check-ups to make sure she’s okay, she’s doing great. When she told me about the mass initially, I was shocked and overcome with worry. This was someone I’d known and been friends with most of my life; someone I’d seen and talked to regularly for 34 years. Shannon was my very best friend for many of those years. I cried a lot about it. We cried on the phone together. Hearing her say that she was so scared that her little boy, her only child and the light of her life, wouldn’t have a mom was horrible. It also made me feel grateful for my own good health.
In May, one of my former co-workers, and a friend, suffered a brain aneuryism. His wife, also a former co-worker and friend, made everyone aware of the situation on Facebook, and gave us updates when she could. Sadly, he passed away shortly after. Though I hadn’t seen him or his wife in over 15 years, we were friends, and, though we lived five hours apart, we chatted occasionally on Facebook and Twitter. The two of them had been so wonderful to me when I worked with them at the radio station so many years ago. I would go to their house some days and have lunch and a visit. They were kind and giving. They meant so much to me that I had a dream about them years ago, and mentioned it to Nancy on Facebook when we finally reconnected there about eight years ago. In my dream I had seen them in a nearby town, but couldn’t reach them before they drove away. I was stressed out in my dream because I really wanted to see them and talk to them. Strange, right? They obviously left an impression on me. When I read that Rich had passed away on Nancy’s Facebook page, it was bizarre. It seemed impossible. Rich was only 52, and he lived healthily. It was so unexpected and so sudden. He left behind Nancy, the love of his life and soulmate, and their five year old daughter Zoe. To see that one day someone you love can be here, and the next day he isn’t, without warning, was devastating. I was reminded that you never know when it’s your last day. I was also reminded to check that my organ donation card was filled out so that I, too, could make a difference in others’ lives. Rich was an organ donor, and his wife made the decision to donate everything that could be used to help others waiting for transplants. Because of the selflessness and generosity of the two of them, the lives of at least eight people have been prolonged and enriched. Rich will live on in them. Over the last two weekends, Nancy and Zoe have come here to visit with me and others with whom Nancy and Rich worked so many years ago. We’ve talked about Rich and what happened, and we talked about how wonderful it is for Zoe to know that her dad has saved lives. That’s truly an awe-inspiring legacy.
Last month, one of my fellow teachers – a co-worker and a friend – was hit while cycling in preparation for an upcoming triathlon. The first thing reported was that she had suffered “life-altering” injuries. Initially we – her co-workers – didn’t know what that meant. We eventually learned the extent of Julie’s injuries. This was someone who was very active: she swam, biked, ran, and coached the cross-country ski team at our school. She also lives on a farm with her husband, and they have two young children. A morning bike ride turned into a traumatic experience that left her with a broken neck, a broken back, facial lacerations, broken teeth, lung damage, and broken ribs. And she’s paralyzed. For now. And maybe for always. Only time will tell. She’s a strong and determined person though, and I know she will work hard and fight to try to be able to walk again. Not only has she endured a number of surgeries already to repair her body, but she’s also trying to make things better for the community as a whole by advocating for safer conditions for cyclists. She, her family members, and her friends have been interviewed by the media to bring awareness to the law when it involves cyclists and cars. Julie is turning the single most devastating occurrence in her life into an opportunity to make a positive change so that others do not have to suffer the way she is suffering. To be able to focus not on her injuries and how different her life will be, but on helping others is nothing short of amazing.
The close calls, the loss, and the life-altering experiences of others surely remind us all that life is so precious, and it can be too short. Worrying about small things isn’t worth the time it takes. Because you just never know. Things can change in an instant. “Seize every second of your life and savor it.”