We are all on the road Home. We simply do not know how soon we will get there.
Although it is April and should be spring, there are still rare patches of snow in shaded spots. Yesterday’s rain began as flurries. When it was warmer this morning, the dogs were surprised, then shocked and tired, tongues out.
In an earlier time, before we had dogs and a child, we often handled holidays like Easter and Labor Day as three-day weekends, driving the seven hours from New England to Pennsylvania to my parents’ home or Jeff’s parents’ for a quick visit.
One year, we arrived as the first splashes of autumn color marked the trees. My brother grilled dinner while I talked to my father. Jeff chased our niece and nephew. Dad seemed fine, firmly in the period that follows middle age and precedes the fragility that chills with the promise of death. It was his autumn too.
We talked of this and that. Then he looked at the sun setting in the west and his tone became reflective. He said calmly that he had walked farther than he had yet to walk, and perhaps that was not a bad thing. It is never a bad thing to know you are nearing home.
My father died suddenly nine years later. He walked to the post box to drop off mail, walked home, and fell just inside the front door. My mother, who was a CPR instructor, tried to resuscitate him until medics came, but his heart did not restart.
When I remember him, I think of him as he was that day —scents of autumn in the air, standing with his hand gently over his face, looking at a setting sun and talking of the journey and the journey’s end.
All lives end in death. What makes life a miracle, a challenge, a wonder we can never fully comprehend, is the journey— the steps and stumbling blocks and wild, wonderful rides that mark the landscape between birth and death.
None of us knows how long our journey will be, how many steps or sunsets or years are left to us. My father was in his sixties the evening he talked with me, for the first time, about his life and death. At that age, it was more than fair to say he had walked farther than he had yet to go. I have now lived almost 60 years.
It isn’t the distance that matters though, either how far I have come or how far I have yet to go. What matters is that I look back often enough to retain the best of what was, weigh what to let go, and then walk purposefully forward.
There is much I want to do, to write, to say, moments I want to share with my family, my son, my pets, all of the friends who have blessed my life and given it richness.
Regardless of your age, whether you count steps or haven’t begun to feel there is a finite number of steps to count, we know some things. We should live every day fully, as if we have forever and yet as if it is our last.
Do what needs to be done. Love without reservation. Make a difference today. Do not downplay or forget the comfortable, the kind, the quiet because it is not the extraordinary, the amazing, the symphonic.
I always loved listening to my father, the scholarly, religious historian who never felt young again after he saw his lieutenant die after stepping on a landmine on their first day in Europe in World War II.
For all of the knowledge and insights he shared with me for more than 40 years, though, I remember the message captured in a quiet conversation while we waited for dinner. Life is partially as beautiful as it is because we never know how colorful it will be or how long it will last.
My husband took this photo on a trip to take my son back to his residential school for students with autism after a visit home. The mountain’s fall foliage is bright, yet the sudden snow is unmistakable. we never know when our seasons will turn, when our winter will come.
Do not let a day end in anger, or allow the meaningful to go undone or be left unsaid. Death is not an enemy we can defeat or at least, if life were a game, take to overtime. Death is the end of life. We want to make sure we make the most of the journey, however long it lasts.
Elizabeth Coolidge-Stolz, MD/ (c) HealingWoman