“Dun da da dun” is the sound of trouble in the middle of the night. It is an alert warning me that something significant has happened while I am sleeping. It comes from my husband’s phone which he charges on his bedside table each evening. It is tells me that the BBC has an important story. It usually signals bad news.
In the early hours of Central Time on August 24, I heard the familiar alarm and knew that somewhere something of import had taken place. The fact that it was still quite dark outside made it most likely that the occurrence was from another part of the world. When the sun finally peeked through my bedroom window it teased me from my slumbers. Remembering the sound that had roused me earlier I immediately checked my own phone to see what event had been so earth shattering that it merited a signal. As I stared at the headlines still blurred by my not quite awake eyes I learned of a horrible earthquake in the middle of Italy that had destroyed towns and taken far too many lives.
I sadly scanned the images and the details while clearing my head with my morning jolt of caffeine. I felt a great sadness wash over me as I read of the suddenness with which the rumbling earth had destroyed so many lives. One moment it was a beautiful day on which tourists and townspeople filled the streets, a time when the populace planned for weekend festivals. The next brought unimaginable horror as buildings that had withstood wars toppled to the ground burying the humans unfortunate enough to have been inside of them.
I next checked Facebook to see if any of my friends of Italian decent knew anyone who had been affected by the quake. Before I was even able to locate their posts I noticed a plaintiff cry for prayers from one of my cousins, a young woman with a beautiful family and an even more lovely soul. She revealed that she had been diagnosed with lymphoma and requested that we all ask God to help her. I felt as though I had been stabbed in the heart. I was shaken.
After gathering my wits I noticed a comment from a childhood friend whose family had immigrated from Italy long ago. She shared an image of the damage caused by the earthquake in the country of her ancestors and remarked that we should all live with the realization that everything that we take for granted can change in a heartbeat.
I was reminded for the millionth time just how fragile our lives really are. We assume that we will arise each morning and begin our routines. We make plans for the future never believing that anything will impede them. We have great intentions to do this or that but somehow become distracted with the mundane. We complain about small irritations that are generally easy to resolve. We act as though we have all the time in the world to do the things that are most important. We rush from appointment to appointment and often find ourselves apologizing for not having enough time to call a friend, check on a neighbor, visit someone who is lonely, send a card to someone who is sick.
We only have so many hours in a day and we have to prioritize, save our energy. “I’ll think about that tomorrow,” we reply echoing the now famous words of Scarlet O’Hara. All too often tomorrow never comes. We pile up regrets. The regrets turn to sorrow. We don’t quite know how to slow down the pace of our lives just enough to engage in a concerted effort to enjoy our blessings.
Of course our immediate responsibilities must come first. We have jobs. Our family members require our care and attention. We must maintain our own health. The drive just to accomplish those things may begin before dawn and only end in the dark of night. Our energy is limited. We can’t and shouldn’t push ourselves into to an early grave by attempting to be all things to all people. We know that this is true and yet each of us have known individuals who managed to redirect their lives just enough to be able to reach out to someone every single day. They demonstrate that it requires only a bit of organization and practice to include acts of kindness in the fabric of our daily routines.
I know people who keep rolls of stamps and boxes of generic greeting cards at the ready to send their love and concern to those who may need a burst of sunshine. It takes only a few minutes to jot down a note of encouragement but that tiny slice of time has the power to change someone’s entire day. Our phone calls don’t have to be long or move beyond a few sweeps of the clock. Just a quick few words tell someone that they are important. It need take no more than the time to say, “I was thinking of you. How are you doing?” At work we can give someone a thumbs up, acknowledging effort and the importance of what they do. We shouldn’t wait for another day to express our sorrow or offer our contrition for mistakes or mend a broken relationship. A simple wave, a post on Facebook, a smile, a hug are gestures that take so little of our time and energy but have profound consequences. We should all strive to insert a few more of such endeavors into every one of our days. By doing so we are less likely to be filled with the regret of leaving our words unsaid, our actions undone.
The clock is slowly ticking. Each day is filled with uncertainty. It is a waste of time to dwell on the possibility of sudden tragedy but it is wise to realize that we only have so many opportunities to accomplish the most important tasks that center on the people about whom we care.
Last week I watched a biography of Jimmy Carter. It mentioned that President Carter loved and respected his father but sometimes felt that he was a bit too stern, unemotional and formal in his relationships. He didn’t think that his father’s business dealings merited much praise. He would have preferred to see his dad performing corporal works of mercy and charitable acts. Upon his death Jimmy learned how wrong he had been in estimating his father. The funeral brought an overflow crowd and even more praises for the many kindnesses that Carter’s father had extended quietly and humbly to virtually everyone that he had ever encountered. Story after story told of small gestures and sacrifices that had made enormous differences in people’s lives. President Carter at that moment began to realize that it is in those everyday encounters that we touch the most hearts.
I will most assuredly once again hear the “dun da da dun” from the BBC announcing the latest news. My phone may ring to tell me of births, accomplishments, joys, sorrows, death. The unrelenting rhythm of life will march forever forward. The clock will tick. Hopefully I will have set aside a tiny slice of my day to live my best life. I can’t afford to wait until tomorrow to think about the things that deserve to be done today.