This is one of those phrases that gets thrown around so much that it has almost become a cliche. People say it all the time, but they do so without devoting the appropriate amount of thought to what these three words really mean. There is a powerful, valuable lesson behind them that anyone can benefit from, but for one reason or another, few people take the time to learn. These words carry the message that life is finite. You only get so much time, and you never know how much time you have left. You don’t know when your number will be up, which means that you should make the most of the time you do have. While this is a lesson that most people only learn later in life, by having to face my mortality several times over the years I became aware of how fragile and fleeting life can be, and the importance of making every day count.
I realize that any of us could get hit by bus and die tomorrow, but for most people, chances are you will not have to worry about your own demise for quite some time. When you are born with a physical disability like SMA though, the truth is, you really could die tomorrow. On any given day my heart or my lungs could finally give out from the years of damage from fighting my disease. What may only be a cough today, could be a severe respiratory infection tomorrow that causes my lungs to collapse. This is not something that I focus on or worry about as I go about my day, but I do try keep sight of this reality as it reminds me to seize every opportunity and live life to the fullest, because there may not be a tomorrow. Every now and then, I am reminded of the importance of making the most of the time I have, when I have a close call with my health. The last time this happened was a few years ago, on my way home after going on a Caribbean cruise.
My nurse and I had just gotten back to the United States after spending seven days at sea visiting Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and Mexico. It had been an amazing experience, and we had had an incredible time without any problems. We had some car trouble on our drive home from Galveston, Texas, back to Kansas, which resulted in us having to spend a night in a hotel while my van got fixed, but other than that little hiccup, our trip had been perfect. We were on our way home at 11:30pm, and we were on the toll road about 90 minutes from home, when I started to not feel well. My body ached all over, and my breathing was getting very shallow and labored. We pulled over to do a suction and try to open my lungs, but it didn’t help much at all. Since my chest was getting really heavy, and I was having to put a lot of effort into breathing, we knew something was wrong. We also knew that we could not make it home until this was resolved. The problem was, we were on a toll road in the middle of nowhere, and we had no idea where the nearest emergency room was. We decided that the fastest and best course of action was to call for an ambulance to come to us. So, as I was struggling to breathe more and more with every breath, my nurse called 911 and gave them our mile marker to tell them where to find us. We then just had to wait, and hope that I could hold out until the ambulance arrived.
What we were unaware of at the time, is that ambulances have to be let on to the toll road by a police officer. So, while the ambulance may be hauling ass to get to you, if they cannot get a police officer to let them through the gate, they have to just sit and wait. This makes absolutely no sense, as I cannot think of any reason why the toll booth attendant cannot let them through (it is not like people are driving ambulances to save $4.57 in tolls), but this is the way it is in the state of Kansas. It took almost 40 minutes for the ambulance to finally reach us that night on the interstate, and that entire time I was having more trouble breathing and wondering whether I was going to make it. I really thought that I was going to die there on the side of the road. I told my nurse that this was not her fault and not to blame herself if I passed. I also told her what I wanted her to tell my parents and family. I wanted them to know that I loved them, that I was not alone in my final minutes, and that I was not afraid. I wanted them to know that I had loved my life, that I appreciated everything they had done and sacrificed for me to be happy and successful, and that I had no regrets. As I was telling her all of this, a few words at a time since I couldn’t get much air, we saw red and blue flashing lights in the distance coming towards us, and we knew that help had arrived. The EMTs quickly got me stabilized and on oxygen, and then they loaded me into the ambulance and took me to the hospital.
Experiences like this one, where I come face to face with my own mortality, remind me of how fragile life is. You never know when your time will be up. It can happen anytime and anywhere, even driving along in the dead of night on a toll road while you are dressed in cruise wear. The lesson to be learned from this fact is that you need to make the most of what time you do have, and the importance of living every day like it may be your last. Now I am not endorsing doing things like spending your life savings, quitting your job, or buying a Lamborghini on credit because you won’t be around tomorrow to pay the bill. As with everything in life, you have to find balance. What I am suggesting is to adopt the mindset that you are going to seize every opportunity and live life to the fullest. You will no longer wait to tell a loved one how you feel, because you will talk to them tomorrow. You will no longer wait until you are less busy/tired/stressed to learn some new skill you have always wanted to learn, because there will be time for that later. You will no longer pass on having some awesome, new experience, because you will get another chance eventually. You will live for today, because you know how precious life is, and that at any moment your time could be up.
Even though you are young and chances are you have a lot of happy, healthy years ahead of you, it is still enormously important to not waste the time you are given. No matter how long you live and how much you experience, when your day comes, you will wish you had more time. You will wish you had just one more day to spend with your loved ones. You will wish to see just one more sunrise. That is why it is so crucial to make the most of every single day and seize every opportunity you possibly can. It is important to plan for the future, but it is just as important to live for today and be in the moment. Make it your goal that every night when you are in bed, right before you go to sleep, that you can look back on your day and think of at least one thing that you did to live for today. It doesn’t have to be something huge or life altering, it just has to be something that you did because you are aware that eventually, tomorrow will never come. If you can do that every single day, I guarantee that you will live a full life, and when you are on your deathbed you will have no regrets. Carpe diem!