I just recently finished the book, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi a neurosurgeon’s chronicle of his courageous battle against cancer. According to Atul Gawande, Dr. Kalanithi’s memoir is proof that the dying are the ones who have the most to teach us about life, and I believe that in many ways this is true. More than anything, this book has taught me to live each day as if I’m dying, but to also plan as if I’ll live forever. It’s a paradox for sure and at times those two aims are at tension with each other (should I go visit the very extended relatives who cause me grief? But what if this were the last time I could see or talk to them?). It’s a reckoning of my life’s priorities and a reminder that in the end we’re all dying, we just don’t know when. Those of us who are more acutely aware of this fact possess the gift of perspective with which to order our lives.
Meanwhile, there’s the reality of daily life, begging to be confronted soon. As I write, the girls are running around upstairs, we’re smack in the middle of potty training the little one (a story for another day), and work beckons in a matter of days. Most of these past few days have been spent idyllically enjoying Christmas movies, wrapping and unwrapping presents, late mornings, delicious meals and time with friends and family. In short, life is easy right now. It’s a good time to be grateful and it’s also a good time to look ahead to the future while everything seems bright. Now is certainly the time for reflection and introspection if there ever was one.
Over lunch a few days ago (without the kids), my wife and I sat and discussed our progress towards our vision and our priorities for 2017. We answered 3 big questions for ourselves: where do we want to be at the end of 2018, where are we now, and how do we get there? I adore talking about the future with my wife of now 12 years. Each time we revisit our vision and goals I’m reminded of our early conversations while dating dreaming up the kind of life we wanted to create together. As plans tend to go, very few things have worked out the way we wanted them to go, but we’ve always tended to arrive at the right destination nonetheless. This serendipity has over the years has renewed our faith in providence, and at the same time humbled us about the planning process in general. Now we don’t stress about how things will happen. Instead we just spend time getting clear on where we want to be, and the values that we choose to live our lives by. We believe everything else will work itself out.
This brings me back to Dr. Kalanithi’s book. I believe life is more about asking the right questions than having all the answers. Pursuing a life of faith helps you to begin exploring many of those questions. Samantha and I don’t know what the future holds. However, we do have a responsibility to prepare for it as if it’s coming, and at the same time savor the present for the gift that it is. As parents we think about this tension constantly. What if one of us or both of us were to die soon, are our affairs in order? Have we laid the right foundation for the girls? It’s these questions that drive my actions as their father, and it’s what prompted me years ago when each girl was born to begin writing letters to each of them.
When was the last time you peered into the future? What did you see and what did it prompt you to do? If seeing is believing, then I believe we owe it to ourselves to spend a bit more time dreaming. Get busy living or get busy dying, but either way get on with it!