- What would you do if you had only one month to live?
This Saturday evening had been fun. We had eaten pizza together, listened to some good music and now we all were sitting in the back yard of Laura´s house. The summer was hot and many hours after the sunset it was still pleasantly warm.
We looked at Laura.
- What do you mean? One month to live? Why do you ask? Oh please, don´t say that you…
- No, no, no! Laura laughed, - I´m perfectly healthy and all right. But my neighbor told of a relative who went to a routine check-up with the doctor and suddenly heard he only had one month to live. Imagine! One month left!
- Oh, how horrible… we all felt compassion for the man.
- And so I began to think what would I do if I had only one month to live… Laura said.
We sat there sipping self-made lemonade (Laura´s speciality) and said nothing.
- Here, Laura took out a notepad and a pen, - Write down what you would do. Just out of curiosity.
We tried to protest, but Laura would not give up.
- No, seriously! Imagine how you would feel if you were told you only had one month to live. You would certainly want to do something important with the time you have left! What is it? Don´t you want to know what you would really really want to do? Three things! We are always complaining how we would be happy, if only… So what are those things that would make you happy? The things you would absolutely want to do?
Reluctantly we took the notepad and pen and for a while no one spoke. We all wrote something, tore the page and gave the notepad and pen to the next person. Then we looked at Laura.
- Now what?
- Now - go out and do those things!
We looked at her, speechless.
- Yes, don´t you see? What did we talk about the whole evening? How we have time for nothing else but work work work all the time. Taking care of other people´s needs, building other people´s businesses. We all come home tired in the evenings and all we have energy for is to eat, do the laundry and flop on the sofa to watch TV. What happened to the dreamers we all were at school? You, Mark, weren´t you supposed to become an archaeologist? Our very own Indiana Jones?
- Yea, but…
- And Tina. You were supposed to put up a shop selling clothes you yourself made. What happened? How did you end up as an accountant? You had such talent!
- Well, accounting pays the bills…
- The bills… Laura almost snorted, - It seems we all live only for the bills. Where are all our dreams? You want to hear what I wrote?
We mumbled in agreement, a bit taken aback by her excitement.
- My three things to do if I had one month to live, Laura cleared her throat, - One: travel to Rome, Italy and sit on the Spanish steps toasting to life with champagne. Real champagne, mind you. Two: take all my photos and write stories about them. Who is who, what was good about them, and why the photo was taken. Three: sell my house and use the money to have the greatest funeral party ever - while I was still alive.
We nodded in agreement for the first two and laughed at the third. It sure sounded like Laura, that one. She loved throwing parties and inviting people over.
- Now the rest of you!
We read what we had written. The things we would do if we had one month to live. Call all our family members and friends and tell we loved them. Travel to Hawaii and watch the sun set. Go to see a real volcano. Write a novel. Go to opera. Paint a scenery we loved. Donate money to a charity. Buy a new car. Read the Bible from cover to cover. Go meditate in a Buddhist center. Plant trees. Read that archeology book that had been collecting dust for years.
When the last one of us had finished reading, Laura looked at us.
- Did you listen what you just said? All those things are things you could do right now. So why don´t you? Why have you build mental walls around you that stop you from living life as you would really want?
We sat in the soft, warm night, with the stars twinkling above us, the soft wind caressing our cheeks and hair. No one said a thing. Then Laura got up.
- You know - I think I´ll go check the travel agencies on the net and book myself a trip to Rome. Want to come along, Jim? I´m sure there are trips to Vesuvius or Etna being sold there too.
Mark got up too to follow Laura and Jim.
- I´ll come too. Maybe you let me check archaeology courses when you´ve booked your trip.
They left and the rest of us looked at each other.
- I think I´ll go buy some saplings tomorrow, Helen said.
- I´m sure I still can find my mother´s Bible… I think Janet put it in a box in the attic… Henry said.
For some reason Karen had a leaflet about the local Buddhist center in her pocket and now she was reading it. And I thought about all the notes I had made in order to write a novel.
Yes, tomorrow I would start.
We all have lost loved ones. Family members, friends, neighbors.
It makes you think, doesn´t it? It makes us realize how valuable every single day is. And yet most of us are stuck in our everyday routines we don´t even question anymore.
I shall always remember what my English teacher Tuula Sandholm said when we were graduating. She looked at us, sitting there, all eager to go out into the great wide world and said:
"If there is one thing I want you to remember, it is this poem:
And the days are not long enough
And the nights are not long enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass.
Try to live your lives so that you don´t let life slip by like that field mouse. Shake that grass!"
She was and is a a wise, wise woman. And I have kept the poem in my mind ever since. Thank you, Tuula. This poem is one of the greatest gifts and lessons anyone has given me.
So - what if you sat down and wrote down three things you would want to do if you had only one month to live? And what if, after you had your list ready, you would spend the next month doing something every day to make those things real? It could be whole new doors would open for you to let you live the life you really wanted, deep inside you.