I have been stunned by death recently.
Because of all my travels, my reach to dozens of different communities is far and wide. I feel that this makes the amount of great news I hear greater than what most people hear, and in turn it makes the amount of tragic news I hear far greater.
I have heard of more tragedy than my heart can handle in the past few months. Two parents of former teens have died suddenly in car accidents. An old friend in her 30s passed away from cancer. The lives of teens at parishes I have spoken at have been tragically lost. A friend of many of my good friends, a faithful father of four, was given a cancer diagnosis and died weeks later. A wonderful deacon, friend, and husband lost his life suddenly in a heartbreaking helicopter crash. The confusion about death and suffering is deep in the communities affected by these deaths.
And as I sit here am struck again and again by how quickly death can come.
Through these shared stories and pain, I learn over and over again that our lives, each of our lives, could end in one short instant. The life within me is the most fragile thing I possess, yet I, like so many others, act in many ways as though this is the furthest thing from the truth.
When I was in high school and Mrs. Nick was my religion teacher, she would give us prompts every day at the start of class to get us thinking, to pray about, or to ponder. There is one prompt that has stayed with me even until this day..."If you found out you had one week to live, who would you call and why are you waiting?"
So with all this loss I have been thinking lately about the way in which I would choose to do things if I was indeed given one more week to live. Some would perceive this as morbidity, but this is my personal and human attempt to try to make something good come out of sadness and untimely death.
What would I wish I had done differently if someone told me today that my life would end so soon?
Quite honestly, I would wish I had worried less and lived more deeply in faith rather than fear. I would wish that I had smiled more at people more and paid more attention to listening and engaging people in conversation. I'd wish I had spent less time on my phone and more time looking up at the world. I'd wish I had spent less time stressing about whether God would provide and just trust that when He says He will, He will. I'd wish I had hurried less and lived each moment more slowly, more intentionally. I would lament the fact that there were so many beautiful sunsets I never stopped to look at. I'd wish I had dared to go beyond the surface in so many of my friendships with others - to be unafraid to dive into deep and meaningful instead of avoiding depth at all costs to keep everyone comfortable. I'd wish I'd spent more time celebrating myself rather than focusing on all the things I think are wrong with me. I'd wish I had done more random acts of kindness - like all those strangers I feel the Holy Spirit prompting me to encourage? I'd wish I had told them what the Holy Spirit wanted me to tell them rather than being afraid they'll take me for a nut. I'd wish I had given more and taken less for granted. I would wish I had better been able to let the little things go...because, do they really matter in the grand scheme of things? I would wish I had lived with more reckless and wild abandon.
I have pondered and thought deeply about these things because when I realize that my days are so carefully numbered, I look at what I'd wish I had done differently and I can change these things now. I can decide from this moment forward to live more radically and more purposefully. I want to live inside the reality of the fragility of life and I want to make positive changes because of tragedy. I want to make sense of death by changing the way I live and the way I love.
And so I ask you...what would your list look like? How would you live a more radical life if you found out this week was it?
If you feel moved to...ponder these questions in your own life. May the fragility of our lives affect the way we live, the way we love, and the way we give.
"Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:12