When my son was in the hospital, I would wake up in the middle of the night and have no idea what time it was. Was it morning? 3 AM? Midnight? It all seemed the same in the hospital.
Sometimes I roamed the halls when my son was sleeping so I could reorient my internal clock. But time seemed elusive in the hospital—the place was the same at 2 AM as it was at 2 PM—bright lights reflecting against white floors, nurses clutching charts and medicine. The only way I could track time was the appearance of a new nurse in my son’s room, nearly 12 hours after the first nurse had started her shift.
It was a place where the minutes dragged on endlessly, but the time with my son was slowly slipping through my fingers.
We only have now, I realized as my son lay dying.
That’s the real truth of what hospitals teach us.
We try to pretend like we have all the time in the world for the people we love. But ask anyone who sits at the bedside of a terminally ill patient and they’ll tell you the truth.
Crisis brings us to a point of recognizing how little time we have.
“Too short, too short,” exclaimed the woman as she watched her husband of over seventy years pass away.
Her time with him had not been long enough.
Even though she had gotten more time with her husband than most of us will ever get with our loved ones, she could not understand where all the years had gone.
We only have now.
But normal life lulls us into complacency, blind to the brevity of life. We work harder to get ahead, to make more, to do more, to get more, to prove ourselves.
We run this rat race of always putting off what’s most important.
When I retire…
When I have enough money…
When my kids are grown…
When I accomplish this goal…
But don’t ask the young woman with breast cancer or the couple with the dying child if they put off the important for later.
They know the secret to really living: We only have now.
When we’re faced with the tragedies of life, we realize something has to change, that we can’t go on living like we have all the time in the world.
We live differently when we have a sense of how brief our lives are.
When someone you love is terminally ill, the answer to how to our spend our time becomes clear.
Invest in the people you love.
Say yes more often. Yes to interruptions. Yes to messes. Yes to something crazy.
The time for radical living isn’t for when you’ll have more time. It’s recognizing that you’ll never have enough time–and then doing something now.
It’s learning to prioritize your life in a way that values not what you accomplish, but how well you loved.
The parents sitting with their children in hospitals and kissing their foreheads know this too well.
They reach across the hospital bedsheets, touching their child’s hand, while there’s still time.
While they have now.