“We should do a CAT scan just to rule out some things.” the Urgent Care doctor said.
Before I could ask him, he responded to the question that immediately formed inside my throbbing head.
“—things like aneurysms or tumors.”
A few minutes later I was sitting on a roll of white, onion-skin examining table paper, beneath the raking fluorescent light of an antiseptic, nondescript hospital room—and imagining the worst. My mind rocketed to the dire news he could have for me in a few minutes, just what he might say when he returned, and the terrifying dominoes that would fall afterward. I imagined telling my wife and considering treatment options and explaining it to our kids, and paying bills and changing vacation plans—and a hundred different things that sitting there seemed like a pending reality.
It’s one of those moments when you remember that you’re not permanent, that you aren’t superhuman; that this will all be over some day—and far sooner than we realize or want.
The examining room door flew open and abruptly interrupted my dizzying daymare in progress.
“Everything came back negative,” he said, “so we’re in good shape.”
He kept talking, but I didn’t hear much after that. I was too busy trying to fight back tears.
And just like that, the tidal wave of terror subsided, the color returned to my cheeks, and I exhaled deeper than I had in recent memory. A few minutes later I was outside, watching the sun peeking over the tree line and feeling the breeze against my face, and being relieved.
“So I’m not dying,” I thought to myself and then replied. “—well, not yet, anyway.”
Since that morning I’ve been thinking about the fact that I didn’t get an exemption with that good news—just a temporary reprieve. One day the news won’t be good. One day I won’t get to exhale. One day I might not see the sun.
Some people think it’s morbid to consider your demise, but I think it’s helpful. We should remember that we all have an expiration date; that our days here are finite, and that we all have far less time than we want. We should give ourselves the gift of doing the math of our remaining existence.
If you’re reading this, chances are you have at best, eight or so decades left here (but likely far less than that.) There is a number that exists that you can’t see, and that number represents the sunrises you have remaining.
And the question I asked myself as I left the hospital, is the same one I’ll ask you:
What do you want to do with the time you have left here?
How much of those precious, fleeting, irretrievable-once-they’re-gone seconds, do you want to spend:
postponing a dream you’ve been carrying around?
holding a grudge against someone you can’t seem to forgive?
obsessing about your waistline or hairline or worry lines?
waiting for someone else’s consent to be happy?
being a bystander to injustice?
looking for approval from strangers on social media?
being less than the most authentic version of yourself?
compromising your convictions to keep the peace?
staying in a relationship where the other person doesn’t give what you give?
beating yourself up for the stupid stuff your younger self did?
It isn’t easy to get out of the well-worn ruts our minds make for us. The ordinary days have a way of lulling us into believing there isn’t any urgency to them; that somewhere off in the distance, we’ll actually begin doing the important stuff we need to do. We’ll start living someday.
This is just a reminder that this is the day to do that important stuff. Today is someday.
This a reminder that your days are numbered, and since you don’t know what that number is—you should live the hell out of this day.
Give yourself a break.
Have the cake.
Notice how fast your kids are growing.
Treasure the lines on your face as mementos of grief and joy.
Tell someone you love them while they can still hear you.
Stop being your own Kryptonite.
Find a hill worth dying on and take it.
Have a second piece of cake.
This day, as ordinary and uneventful as it seems—is one of the relatively few you have left.
Do something worth of it.
When Death shows up to give you news you didn’t want and didn’t see coming, may it interrupt you in the act of really living.