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Learning the fragility of life can be beneficial

Published April 24. 2010 09:00AM

My friend, Skip, is a really special guy. He spends so much of his time doing nice things for others.

That's one reason why he and his wonderful wife, Ruth, are favorites with so many of us. So it was with great alarm that we heard bad news from him last month.

He was doing something routine, something that didn't even require thought. He was moving a trailer with his powerboat on it. Without warning, a pin loosened and the trailer collapsed on his foot.

He knew it was bad. But he didn't know how bad until a doctor said he could lose his foot if the deep crater-like wound didn't heal. And, wounds as serious as that are difficult to heal.

There it is again.

In the blink of an eye, life changes.

Ruth and Skip were filled with plans for an upcoming kayak club trip to Mount Dora and a much-anticipated sailboat cruise to the British Virgin Islands.

Their life revolved around great plans for fascinating trips. Now, it revolves around visits to medical specialists and daily treatments in a hyperbaric chamber to promote healing. Instead of running around having fun, Skip is limited to wearing a special boot with a vacuum pump that operates round the clock.

While they had to cancel their trips, Skip and Ruth say they are lucky. He's getting excellent care, the prognosis is good, and they know it could have been a lot worse.

Some aren't so lucky. Without warning, a split second changes life.

Or snuffs out a life.

My friend Margaret went to bed with her husband, a routine end to a routine day. She fell asleep planning tomorrow. But her tomorrow wasn't what she envisioned.

Her husband, Carl, got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. When Margaret heard a thud coming from the bathroom, she got up and found her husband dead from a heart attack.

He was 43.

Life is fragile. Our hold on it is precarious, at best.

While that may sound like a dismal thought, acknowledging it can offer a positive guidepost to living.

I can't tell you how many times I conscientiously let go of anger, like I instantly drop a hot poker.

I let go of anger and of thoughts that steal away my positive energy whenever I remember just how short and how fragile life really is.

If life is short, too short, why would we waste a day of it?

If we are simmering in anger, engaging in "spite work" or nursing a grudge, are we not wasting the day?

If we weren't filled with that anger or if we weren't harboring bitterness, wouldn't there be room inside us for other more positive emotions?

If we acknowledge that so much of life is out of our control, it helps us resolve not to waste a minute of what we can control.

We can't control the amount of time we are given on earth. All we can control is what we do with that time.

Every time a friend like Carl is snatched away, it reminds me once again of that lesson. It drives home the fragility of our hold on life. And, to tell the truth, it influences my behavior.

When my friend Carl died, I went out and bought the best steaks I could find. Back then, we were putting two daughters through college at the same time and we didn't splurge much on expensive cuts of meat. Instead, I tried to be as creative as possible with hamburger.

That steak dinner was in the middle of the week. I set the table with the "good" tablecloth, the one I used only for special company. I got out the good china and pulled out the sterling silver we used only for company.

When my husband came home and saw the table set with candlelight, he wasn't pleased. He was upset.

"Carl was our friend," he said. "What is there to celebrate?"

I told him we were celebrating life. We were celebrating while life was still ours to celebrate. And instead of mourning Carl on that particular night, we were celebrating the good he did throughout his life and how much he meant to us.

Weeks later, when I talked with Carl's wife, she understood exactly what I meant. "We should celebrate life, not just special occasions," she agreed. She said she wished she and her husband would have done more of that.

Why don't we?

Why don't we pull out our best dishes and use our best silverware for ourselves, instead of saving it only for company?

Why don't we have more candlelight dinners to celebrate an ordinary day, because of we all know, there is no such thing as "an ordinary day." There is only another precious day of life.

Some say it's too scary to give much thought to our fragile hold on life. Yes, but it's also freeing.

If we truly appreciate the day at hand instead of taking it for granted, we will treat it as the gift it is.

We will know we have gotten to the point when we are living fully only when we recognize the preciousness of every single moment.

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