Life is full of numbers, and we can’t ignore them. Nor should we, because many of those numbers teach us about life itself. The numbers and events of the current month, November 2014, have taught and reminded me about some of life’s bullet points that are especially worth remembering.
This month my step-dad Mort peacefully sailed across life’s finish line after 101 great years, saying in his final moments, “everything turned out just the way I planned it.” My second daughter had her first child, my fifth grandchild. He has not said anything yet, but will hopefully have 101 years to figure out what to say at the end. Make it good, Max!
Along with Max’s exciting beginning and Mort’s peaceful ending, my friend and former coworker who is about half my age of 64 learned he has stage 4 colon cancer, yet he is filled with hope and joy. My cousin-in-law who has already fended off three different cancers is joining us with her family of five for Thanksgiving dinner to be thankful together. My own proton-radiated prostate produced a PSA near my low of 1.4, which is fine and healthy but not as fine as many of my balloon brothers whose PSAs are closer to zero, and I am at least envious and possibly jealous. Probably jealous. Definitely relieved and certainly grateful.
… when life tosses you a hand grenade like cancer, you have to diffuse it and then figure out how to move forward. Our perspective of life’s timeline instantly changes …So that’s three cancer survivors with very different lives, but I am absolutely certain we three are each wondering whether we are closer to Max or Mort on the timeline of our life. And we don’t know. Nobody does, but when life tosses you a hand grenade like cancer, you have to diffuse it and then figure out how to move forward. Our perspective of life’s timeline instantly changes, and our awareness that we don’t know which end we’re closer to skyrockets.
From 0 to 101
Max has begun life at age zero with seemingly infinite time ahead. His zero-year old self has zero wisdom, zero knowledge, zero perspective, zero responsibility, no plans, and infinite possibilities. He lives his life minute by minute, with no concern for how much of it there will be, and with total instinctive focus on what needs to happen at the moment.
Mort finished his life at age 101 with great knowledge and perfect perspective, but few remaining possibilities. Like Max, he was living minute by minute with no expectation of how many more minutes might remain. He began each day cheerfully saying, “I made it!” And then he enjoyed the day, especially if he could watch the Lions, Tigers, or Wolverines win a game.
The hard part is in the middle. It gets complicated. Life happens, and figuring out what to do with it is necessary, but not easy. As we begin to perceive life as a “thing,” we start to figure out what to do with “it.” The problem is, life is not a “thing” and there is really no “it.” Just lots and lots of an unknown quantity of time. At the beginning and the end we measure time in minutes, focusing on what to do now. In the middle we wonder what to do with our years, decades, or even our entire life.
… it is the minutes that matter most, even when we’re somewhere in the middle of our timeline. An entire lifetime is made of lots of minutes …But I am reminded this month that it is the minutes that matter most, even when we’re somewhere in the middle of our timeline. An entire lifetime is made of lots of minutes, and it’s not easy to make each one count. But this seems to be the key to a good life. A five or ten year plan is fine, assuming you have that long. Your next minute is more assured, but even that is not guaranteed.
Your next minute
So the question is, what will you do with your next minute? And the next one? And the next? Are you thinking of life as a thing, or are you focused on making the most of each minute, respecting the unavoidable and relentless mathematics of life?
As we move along life’s path, our perspective improves and our wisdom grows. At the end, when hindsight is 100% and perspective is perfect, we might say, “Ah, so that’s what I should have done with my many minutes. If only I had known then what I know now.” Or if we’re lucky we might say, “Everything turned out just the way I planned it.”
So I’ve been thinking about Mort, Max, and me. And I’ve used some of my minutes to share these thoughts with you. I’d be honored if you would with me.