“Today is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
This is a quote from my Dad’s book Odditude. Incidentally, if you’ve not read my dad’s books, you are missing out. They are not just good, they are life-changing. Seriously. Go read them now. They’re at the library. You have a library card, right? No? Go get a library card. We live across the street from the library. My dad went once a week. He loved to read. He loved getting things for free. The library supplies both these things.
Also, his books can be bought on Amazon: new and used. My favorite is The Junk Drawer Corner Store Front Porch Blues, but The Unoriginal Sinner and the Ice Cream God is a favorite for many. You should read it. Now.
Where was I? Ah, yes…
“Today is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Today would also be my dad’s 68th birthday.
Of course, the obvious choice is to feel sad about today. Today is a sad day for me. My dad was a charismatic, hard-working, intense and amazing person; and he is gone and I miss him every day. Holidays, birthdays, etc. make his absence more real, standing as markers of his time not on this planet.
Today it reminds us that he will not see 68 or 69, or 70 or 80 or any more days or years. He is gone, and that is permanent. He didn’t show up and surprise us today to blow out his candles and laugh about a terrific joke he played. The party is over.
The obvious choice is to feel sad. Another choice is to feel mad. I think back on Thanksgiving last year, on my dad’s birthday and Christmas and I am angry we can’t have those days again. It is very difficult not to want the life you had before—the life you loved, and can’t get back. It is easy to hate the person you were a year ago, because she was so happy not knowing the future, and you can never go back to being that person.
That’s another choice. It is not just “okay” to choose to be angry and sad, it is necessary. It is the only way to work through a tragedy and to take steps forward; but make no mistake: it is a choice. I’m not denying we all have visceral reactions to days on the calendar, to old pictures in frames, to songs on the radio; but we choose the feelings we hold onto, we choose our actions. We choose to hold grudges or make friends, to eat nutella or walk on the treadmill, to believe in the possibilities of the future or to hold on to the pain from the past.
My dad’s death just happened. It was not his choice or mine… it just happened. But what happens next is up to me. Every day each of us chooses to get out of bed, knowing in our hearts that we live in a terrifying, beautiful, awful, ephemeral world. We know that we may never have the pleasure of getting out of bed again, because we can’t know we will be here tomorrow. It’s always a guess.
Every day we have on this planet is a gift. My dad had about 24,000. That’s more than many, but still not enough. It’s never enough—not 24,000 or 50,000 or a million—we always want more. But, we can’t choose more days; we can only choose better, fuller days.
So, today I choose to be sad and to be angry, because I need that; but I also choose to be hopeful. As my dad wrote, “Hope is the joy of planning for, but not knowing, the future.” I am planning to be happier and lighter as time goes on, and hoping that today is just one of thousands of “once-in-a-lifetime opportunities” that lie ahead for me.