Today was a perfect fall day. Temps in the lower 60's, crystal blue skies, no wind and just a hint of bite in the air. A good day to work in the yard, get a long bike ride in and walk the dog. It capped off a great weekend for me. Over the course of the weekend I got the chance to go fishing, get some book submissions in to some publishers and agents and see some old friends at the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books.
For as good as the weekend was, the thing that sticks with me the most was something I saw in the paper first thing this morning. I don't normally spend much time looking at the obituaries, but for some reason one jumped out at me. In the middle of the page was a guy I used to work with who just retired about a year ago. He was 62, and the obit read something like "taken from this life way too soon."
You're not kidding.
I didn't work directly with this gentleman, but I knew him and said hi whenever I saw him. I wasn't close to him, we never knew each other out of work, but to know that he is gone is just one of those shot-to-the-jaw moments.
Now, I consider 51 as young. Heck, in this day and age, 62 is young-ish. I'm in good health so I don't often think of myself dead. It's not a terribly healthy thing to do. Besides once you're dead, you'll have the rest of your death to think about it.
What I have been thinking about a lot lately is what to do with the rest of what's left. What matters? What's important? What's not? What will people remember? What will last? What do I sweat about and, when it comes right down to it, does that really matter?
I want stuff to matter. I want to be a part of making a difference, be it in a relationship, a cause, or the life of a friend or family member.
It makes me think about a friend whose two daughters were so taken aback by the homeless they saw while they were on vacation in California that they felt compelled to start helping the homeless here. I don't know if it was guilt, or shame, or just God working on their hearts, but I do know it is beautiful. They have prepared hundreds and hundreds of sandwiches for the Guest House homeless shelter with their Girl Scout troop and other friends. This is one family taking action. Think about the possibilities if, say 30 families did this with their friends. Doing stuff that matters.
As I continued to read the paper, I saw the statistic that 39 people were killed by terrorists in a mall in Kenya. (The updated number is up to 68.) A page later, read 5 dead in a sudden rise in Chicago shootings. Then a few pages later I read that 92 people were killed in car bomb attacks in Iraq. 92 people! Dead. People that I don't know, for sure, but part of me hopes they had a chance to make a difference.
I took this glum news to church with me later this morning and listened to our pastor talk about the new series on being "called". He started the series with the Moses/Burning bush story. It resonated with me in part because of what I had just read in the paper. While it was a bit about being called within the church, he said it goes for anything, vocation, goals, social justice, and many other. But there it was again. It was another headslap from God. "Hey, mind your calling. And it'd be nice if it mattered, too."
The pastor then went on to reference the Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis. In it Screwtape, a demon explains to his nephew, Wormwood, that people tend to dwell in the past or the future while God deals in the present. So, he says, we need to keep humans focused on the past and the future.
I thought this was poignant give what I'd just read. I am guilty of both dwelling in the past and worrying about the future. While I've been better about focusing on the here and now, I still need to work on it. I need to relish the moment, the day, the hour. Love the now. The best thing you can do for the future, is do something that matters now. Help a friend, listen to a coworker, even if its that annoying one who talks too much. They are part of your now and that's for a reason.
Figure out your calling now. If not now, at least quit worrying about the future or embellishing the past to make it something it wasn't anyway. If you combine the now with love, like the love of the sandwich making Girl Scouts, tragedies like the Kenya mall, or the Iraq bombings, will still be tragic, but things in your sphere of influence will be better. Furthermore, someone else might see what you've done and want to do something equally as good. It's a snowball effect. Nobody ever got credit for waiting. The clock's ticking.