What would you do with two and a half decades?
I’ve mulled over this question for the last week, ever since I heard that a friend from high school is terminally ill. The cancer in her body has spread too far. Treatments have been stopped. She’s dying at age thirty-two, my age, leaving behind a husband and a not quite two-year-old son who will know his mother only through photos and family stories. Family, friends, schoolmates: we’ve all prayed for healing, for God to grant that last minute reprieve from physical death. He still could. But it looks like he won’t.
Contrast a second situation: A man I know fell on a job related accident. He was climbing from the roof of one building to another and fell from two stories up. Suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. Should’ve died, the doctors said, and he didn’t. Two and a half decades later, what has he done with this miraculous extension of a lifetime?
Not much. Read the newspaper. Went out for pizza every Friday at lunch. Walked slower, grown older. It was a chance to mend broken relationships or change his attitude or help others with the skills he had. Had. Past tense, because much of those skills are lost now. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. A reprieve from death wasted.
What could Shawna do with two extra decades? Two extra years?
What would you and I do?
A mother called a local radio station this afternoon. Through sobs and tears, she told the story of her son, who was living in a dangerous environment. He moved there to make a difference in people’s lives, doing what, I don’t know. When his mother expressed concern that he might die, he replied:
“Mom, I’m ready. If dying is what it takes for one more person to know Jesus, I’m ready to die.”
Two weeks later, a gunman burst into his apartment, demanding money from Jeremy’s roommate and his girlfriend. When Jeremy jumped him, he was shot twice in the chest. Jeremy dropped to his knees, bowed his head, and prayed for the man. Then he was shot in the head. He saved his friends’ lives but lost his own.
I only caught the end of the conversation, so I don’t know where this young man was living that he was in such danger. What I do know is Jeremy didn’t waste his life. His mother recounted story after story where he gave Bibles to strangers, shared his faith during the wee hours of the night at 24 hour diners, had a passion for the homeless and those who the rest of us want to ignore. Five or six hundred people attended his funeral. Some came away changed forever because of Jeremy’s life.
Every breath of air in our lungs, every beat of our hearts is a loan from God. Each beat, each breath, is a moment of reprieve from death. It’s a pardon, a stay of execution, a gift and a celebration all wrapped into one. Don’t waste it.
Since I originally wrote this post in October 2009, Shawna died. She passed away a few days before Thanksgiving. My grandmother died two days after Thanksgiving. And exactly one year later, on Thanksgiving day 2010, my childhood friend Jonathan died of cancer. (You can read about that here.)
Even if you are not a Christian or don’t believe in God at all, I hope that you can read this post and see each day as a gift. You have one life. Don’t waste it on the trivial. Live it to the fullest.