“As soon as I get my house settled I want to have you over.” It was a refrain that she repeated many times but her invitation was never forthcoming. Forty years later she had died and somehow she had never quite settled things enough at her home to ask us to come visit. It amused me that she never appeared to realize that she had spoken the same refrain for decades. I’m not certain why she chose to wait. I don’t believe that she didn’t want us. Perhaps she simply allowed the time to slip by again and again until it was too late. Each of us are sometimes guilty of putting off until tomorrow and in her case tomorrow never came.
Many moons ago my husband learned that an older man with whom he worked lived in the same neighborhood as ours. They got together and decided to carpool and split the cost of parking in half. It was an enjoyable bit of cooperation. The older man often made the drives more interesting with his descriptions of what he was going to do once he had retired. He planned to travel the country and the world. He saved and saved so that nothing would get in his way of fulfilling his dreams. Riding with my husband was just one more way of being thrifty in pursuit of his ultimate goal. He gave up many many things so that he would be able to really live it up when his working days were over. Sadly he had a heart attack and died only months before all of his ambitions might have come to fruition. He had waited too long to find the enjoyment that he so wanted to experience.
We do a great deal of waiting in our lives. As parents we sometimes wait for the children to grow up before we concentrate on ourselves. We wait for just the right moment to tell someone how much we care about them. We wait until tomorrow to enjoy today when the truth is that none of us have any guarantees that there will be a tomorrow. We find excuses for waiting, thinking that the merry-go-round of our lives will give us millions of chances to grab the golden ring. Sometimes the music stops and we are left regretting that we didn’t embrace the opportunities that we had to accomplish the things most dear to us.
I had a good friend who never missed an occasion to be with friends. She was ready to be with the people that she loved on the spur of the moment. If someone called and asked if they might come over she always invited them into her home. She would swish out the toilet, wipe down the countertops in her kitchen and throw out of place items into a junk room whose door was always closed. She kept cookie dough in the freezer and coffee at the ready. By the time the guests arrived they would be greeted by the aroma of chocolate chips and the smiling face of a woman who always understood that people should come before anything else. When she died the church was filled to the rafters with individuals who spoke of her generosity. She had crammed so much into her young life that we all agreed that she had found the secret to happiness more than anyone we had ever known. She never waited and we were glad.
There are certainly valid reasons for being cautious. We can’t do everything that we wish unless we are ridiculously wealthy. We have responsibilities that limit how much free time that we have. It is obvious that we sometimes have to plan. Still we shouldn’t be so self sacrificing or perfectionist that we never reach the point of feeling comfortable enough to act on our promises or our desires.
I know a man who says that if he has too much money left over when he dies then he has done something wrong. He realizes that he can’t take his wealth with him and he also doesn’t think that his heirs should have to wait for him to be gone to enjoy the fruit of his labors. He frequently plans fabulous trips and takes his children and grandchildren along to explore the wonders of the world. He believes that it is way more fun to share with them now than to leave them a major inheritance later. He doesn’t worry that he may one day become like King Lear and be abandoned by his descendants in his hour of need. He trusts that they will do right by him. Because of his attitude he has memories that few people ever experience.
All of our days are numbered regardless of how old or young we are. We only pass this way once unless there really is reincarnation. We need to be wary of always waiting to reach just the perfect moment. If we want to see the Grand Canyon then we need to find a way to get there. If we’d like to return to school the first step will be gathering the admissions information and actually doing something with it. If we want to exercise we will carve out a block of time each day and adhere to that routine. If we think we need more time to ourself we will inform everyone that we are not to be disturbed. There is no reason to wait to call that friend, start that book, visit that grandparent, take that leap of faith.
Waiting is the source of so many regrets. We know in our hearts that we need to take action and yet we so often never do. The best way to begin is to create a reasonable plan just like my friend who was always ready for surprise visits. Keep it simple. Take forward progress one step at a time and don’t stop or make excuses.
When I was working toward an advanced degree I taught school all day long and drove an hour away to classes two night a week. There were times when I became so tired that I thought about quitting. In those moments I literally set a goal of making it just one more day. Bit by bit I moved forward and before I knew it I was looking at a diploma. I might have found dozens of reason for waiting but I was determined. I have since followed the same routine in achieving any goal that I set for myself.
If I had one piece of advice for anyone it would be to grab life by the tail and don’t let go. Wait in line if you must but don’t wait to enjoy every single day. Get up in the middle of night and drive to Montana like my next door neighbor used to do if that makes you happy. Go ahead and spoil yourself now and again. Open your arms and your home to those who want to take the time to be with you. Smooth out your hair, put on your shoes and keep a smile on your face as you rush out to really experience all that the world has to offer. Don’t wait until it’s too late.