Well, well, well… it has been a long time! First blog post in almost a year. I guess COVID took a toll on most of us but I cannot use that as an excuse for my absence. I just took an extended break from writing anything that I felt comfortable sharing with an audience. I thought about writing a post detailing what I have been up to since we last met and I still might; but for now, I would like to share with you a recent encounter and the impression it has left on me. I am thrilled to be dropping a new addition to the Juandering Advocate. My hope is that you will enjoy it; that it will inspire or challenge you, and that it will not be so long before I see you again!
My story begins as I was rucking home from Crossfit one evening recently. I was cruising along, minding my own business, lost in thought. I was tired from the workout, my ruck was uncomfortable and my sweat soaked clothes were beginning to give me chills. My thoughts were focused and small much like the illuminated pool cast by a nearby streetlight. In an instant, I was jolted out of my contemplative daze when a car nearly ran off the road and hit me. Thinking about it now makes my heart rate quicken. Time seemed to slow down and everything began to blur except the wide eyes of the driver illuminated by the glow from his cell phone. For that brief moment in time when our eyes locked, nothing that I had been thinking about two seconds or two minutes earlier seemed to matter.
All at once, I was unaware that I was cold and exhausted. It did not matter what I was going to eat for supper. The rude comment a judge had leveled at me earlier that day no longer occupied any space in my mind. I gave no thought to how much money was in my wallet or how many square feet are in the place I choose to dwell. The only number that mattered to me was how many inches were between my right leg and the distracted driver’s bumper.
As an avid runner who does not always have or make the time to get out to my local trail, I am no stranger to close encounters of the automobile kind. I have felt the wind on my cheek from a school bus mirror, heard the awful whine of tires sliding on the blacktop and been close enough to a ladder rack on a construction truck to see the mounting bolts. However, none of those close calls shook me quite like the one I experienced Monday night.
Standing there underneath that streetlight, my heart pounded like it wanted to come out of my chest; my hands and legs shook; my eyes dared not blink until I could no longer see the taillights of the car that could have changed my life. I was acutely aware of my complete and overwhelming focus. I was as present and engaged in that moment of time as I think I possibly could have been. But, the moment of terrifying clarity soon passed and I gave in to the mind’s natural tendency to wander.
The rest of my walk home found me in a contemplative mindset as I pondered the seemingly inevitable “what ifs” that accompany such harrowing encounters. What if he had looked up a split second later? What if I had been wearing headphones? What if he had been driving a large truck instead of that small sedan? As my mind rolled through hypotheticals, the interrogation turned darker and deeper. What if I could not go to Crossfit anymore?nWhat if I could no longer guide trips? What if I lost my ability to walk? What if I ended up in the nursing home?
It was at that point that my thoughts found themselves in familiar territory – the nursing home scenario. Allow me to explain as this is something I think of quite frequently. Over the years, I have spent a considerable amount of time in homes for the elderly. I worked in a convalescent facility when I was in high school. My grandfather spent the better part of a decade confined to one. In recent years, volunteering with hospice has taken me inside the rooms (and sometimes the minds) of people sequestered from their family, friends and oftentimes, their own sanity.
I am acutely familiar with the sights, sounds and smells of these places and I also know that there is a fair probability that I will someday reside in one of them. My girlfriend works as a hospice nurse and we sometimes talk about regrets of the dying and a life well lived. Those conversations make me ponder what my thoughts will center upon while I am there. What will I think about? What memories will I cherish? What regrets will haunt me?
After my close call, I revisited those questions again but I was also reminded of a Reddit post I stumbled upon recently. I have chosen to include an excerpt from that post here as I feel it illuminates the subject matter in a way in which I simply cannot. For context, the following is from a 41 year old man with lung cancer who was recently given mere weeks to live. The thoughts from that dying man have kept me company for a few weeks and if you are anything like me, you may find the following quite eye opening –
“Wishes are usually reserved for the future. I have no future. But I find myself still wishing.
I wish I had not worried so much about the little things. I wish I had not worried so much about the numbers in my bank account or the punch of the time clock. All that time working. I had enough money to keep a roof over my head and to invest in what few hobbies I had, yet I still kept racking up overtime. And for what? Only to find myself here. It all came to nothing in the end. I robbed myself of the most precious commodity I had, time, in exchange for green pieces of paper and little metal discs. A perverse and twisted trade. Only now do I see the truth.
I wish I had had the courage to live my life the way I wanted to. I wish I had traveled the world, fallen in love, written a novel. I wish I had had children. I have no one to whom I can pass my life lessons. No one to sit by my side, here at the end of my world. It is too late for me. But it is not too late for you. Live the life YOU want, no matter how strange it may seem to others or to society. It is your life and yours alone. Live it well.”
Although we are all actively dying, there seems to be something about being consciously aware that your time is almost up that affords one a perspective that is hidden from those who cannot appreciate how late it really is. I believe that there is great benefit to be gleaned from thinking about my own demise and the things that will really matter to me when my time has come. This is nothing new. Philosophers, artists and ordinary people have contemplated their death for as long as we have had brains capable of such contemplation. Stoic philosophers from the times of classical antiquity were fond of visiting tombs where they would ruminate on their own eventual passing. I did not think about these things much as a younger person, perhaps only when someone close to me died. But, I find that the older I get, the more I contemplate and even somewhat embrace thoughts of my own eventual demise.
I frequently conjure up visions of the 80 year old Juandering Advocate. When I am faced with a tough decision or need some motivation, I stop and ask that elderly man what he thinks would be best. It was that old man who told me to stop working for a law firm where the only thing that mattered was the bottom line. It was that old fella who told me to face my fears and fly off the side of a mountain. That same old man told me to move to rural West Virginia, live in a shack and work with adolescents in the unforgettable and unforgiving Appalachian mountains. Some of the greatest experiences of my life have blossomed from uncomfortable conversations with that elderly version of myself.
I want to make that man proud. I imagine he will look back over his life and relish the trips, chances and adventures he took. He will be proud of the risks he embraced and perhaps wish that he had summoned the courage to take more. One thing is for sure – he will have some good stories to tell if he can remember them!
I also have an idea what that old man will not think or talk about. He probably will not worry about how big his house was but rather did he create lasting memories in it. He probably gives little thought to how fancy his car was and instead wishes that he had ridden his bike more. I doubt he gives too much thought to how big his bank account was but rather did he use the money he had to help make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate than himself.
Since that close call with that distracted driver, I have kept these questions and thoughts close to my heart. I want that 80 year old man to know that I thought about him a lot, that I anticipated meeting him and that I did what I could and thought best to make him happy and proud. I know that man does not have much left and while he manages to hold onto them, his memories will be among his most prized possessions.
I hope that you have enjoyed the latest installment of The Juandering Advocate. I wish you all the best in the upcoming year and hope to see you back again soon. When you talk to 80 year old you later today, tell them I said hello!