17th January 2014
I couldn’t stop shaking so I pulled the car over to the side of the road, parked and took the key out of the ignition. My hands were shaking and so were my legs and I felt like I wanted to cry, but there was something stuck in my throat and I could barely breathe.
In the distance a giant container ship was making its way up the channel towards the docklands. Closer to me a family of black swans walked along the grass next to the water and a small group of children passed by on the way to school. It was a perfect Melbourne spring day and everyone was getting on with the normal routine of a Wednesday morning.
Except that last night my son almost died. It’s not the first time that one of my sons or someone I love has been close to death. Over the years there have been car accidents, diving accidents, rip tides, more car accidents, swimming accidents. This was another one. Its not the first time I have gotten off the phone shaking and thanking whatever lucky star was watching over someone I loved to death.
This is life.
We can’t control everyone or everything. It’s impossible to wrap everyone we love up in cotton wool and keep them safe. There will be accidents and illnesses, and people we love will move on from this world.
What we can do is make the most of the time we have with them and with ourselves. Make their life meaningful. Make our life mean something. We get lulled into this sense of security, thinking we have another fifty to seventy years to play with. We put things off until tomorrow. Then we get to tomorrow and we put it off again! We bite our tongues and don’t tell the person we adore what we really think. We don’t hug that person because we think it might get awkward.
When my brother in law hugged his eldest son in the middle of a busy city street and told him he loved him, he had no idea that that would be the last time he would speak to his boy. His son was killed in a motor cycle accident the next day, and my brother in law, in the midst of his despair and grief, held onto the fact that he had hugged his beautiful son and told him how he felt. At least his son knew that his dad loved him to death. My brother in law is a trainer and he always tells people, “Hug your kids. Tell them every day that you love them because you don’t know if you will get another day.”
Before I get too ’emo’ on you all, and we all take out shares in Kleenex, I want to tell you how this realisation, that people indeed may die before midnight, is changing the world I live in. Seriously. People die every day. Beautiful people, good people, ‘not so good’ people, dad’s, brothers, sisters, husbands, mothers, movie stars, gardeners…It’s the one thing we know for sure is going to happen to all of us one day.
‘Treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead before midnight.’
The truth is that some people will be dead before midnight, and one day you and I will be dead before midnight.
So how is this little meme changing my life?
I am much more aware of who I am and who I want to be. I am consciously aware of the relationships I am in and the friendships I have. I am getting better at being present for people, and becoming less interested in my own importance. That’s not to say that I am not looking after myself, or that I am becoming a martyr. Far from it. I am still taking good care of myself. It’s true that it’s pretty damned hard to love others if you don’t have a healthy love for yourself, and if you don’t care for yourself, you teach others not to care for you either.
I am also saying what is in my heart. It calls for some vulnerability, and that is a huge challenge for probably everyone, not just me. It’s about saying what needs to be said. Sometimes that is about how incredible they are, or smart, or funny. Perhaps it is about recognising that the person in front of you is too frightened to move forward and articulating that. Or telling the person you love them to death.
A few weeks ago I thought I was a damned good person. Perhaps that’s because I was measuring myself against a pretty average scale of goodness. But I am now measuring myself against a massive scale of greatness, and I have some work to do. I want to live a GREAT life, and I want to have an inspirational impact on every person I meet.
I hope that when I die before midnight one day in the future, I will have extended all the care, kindness and understanding to the world around me, that I can muster, and I hope that everyone I meet will never be the same again.