This morning as I awoke I laid in bed reflecting on my experience that last forty-eight or more hours. Yesterday my family and I celebrated my parents 90th birthday. Present, was my Father a man of marvel, who continues to work even now seven days a week, with the same devotion he had the first day he went to work. My Mother who for ten years now has lived with dementia was present enough to mumble, “Hi” to everyone before she ate some food and fell fast asleep for the next three hours. Then there was my Father’s brother 84 years old with colon cancer requiring him to wear two colostomy bags and the beginning of kidney failure. Also was my Aunt, his wife who is 99% legally blind and requires his devoted attention every waking hour. They had made the long trip of driving 3 1/2 hours from northwest Pennsylvania for the occasion. Finally, my twin sister, her family my niece and nephew, their wives and husbands, my daughter Katie and her great cousin Livia and, my closest cousin Porky and his family.
On my mind as I laid in bed were the words of the Evening Dharani I had recited in the Zendo hundreds of times, as I did just the other day. “Permit me to respectfully remind you, birth ad death is the Supreme Matter. Everything is of the nature of impermanence. Gone, gone, forever gone. Opportunity is too often lost. Do not squander your life.”
Over a year ago I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Entered an intensive chemotherapy protocol, had major surgery to remove a tumor from part of my pancreas, more chemo and then radiation. In the end I was told, I was in remission. The bloodwork showed that the cancer cells were no longer active. With that news, I rang a traditional bell you would find on any ship, to mark the success of medical science and perhaps my will to beat the cancer. The happiness on that day as well as the anticipation of living cancer free did not last long. In just two days from now I will return to chemo-therapy for a second battle against the demon thief who haunts the lives of millions of people all over the world.
As I laid in bed reflecting I wondered, “What had I squandered?” And “How much?” And, “If I did, what would I have done differently?” I must admit to you there were no immediate answers, and certainly not the usual I often hear people say like, “I would have travelled more.” “I wouldn’t have not worked so much.” Or “I would have said, I love you more often.” No my mind simply fell back to the party where, I sat most of the time when someone was not asking me to explain how I felt, simply watching and quietly loving the faces of all the people there. Most of all my daughter Katie. Whom as you’d might expect I worry the most about in the event I lose this battle. I did however begin to see where I took for granted many many years ago that all of these people, whom I love so much, from my Father to his brother, my niece and nephew, my cousins, and last but certainly not least of all my daughter, while only ten years old, would, did, and are aging toward that same inevitable transition that comes to us all. How brief the many family outings when we were children, or perhaps celebrating the new birth of a nephew or niece. Moments like these are too brief, time is merciless forever robbing us of those imagined “opportunities in the future, too often lost.”
Life isn’t like we like to think of it, “either/or”. We do what we can. We do what we do. We accumulate a collection of choices that were both good for us and others, and those not so good. In the end if we are lucky, and I consider myself as one of the lucky ones, we have no regrets. Not because we did it all right or we did it, “my way”. I think the “no-regrets” come from just simply accepting it all. All of it. The successes and the failures. All the while maintaining a sense of gratitude and meaningful engagement with it all as it all unfolds. “Being engaged”, I think is the true meaning of living life. Hiding from none of it. Embracing the hard times as well as the good times. It’s all meaningful and has something for us to seriously consider. Opportunities should be ceased. Take not one for granted. When you find yourself either walking in the rain, bathing in the sunlight, or having to go through hell, do it “as if you own the place.” Don’t look back. The moment you’ve passed through it, it is “gone, forever gone”. Look around you, see the beauty of the moment, touch it, listen to it, taste it and fully digest it.
As I said “hello” and then “goodbye” to my family yesterday, I noticed as I hugged each and every one of them, I held them a little longer and a little tighter. While I did I realized that I wanted them, to know, I really did love them, I really did appreciate them, I really was for them.
By the end of the party I was exhausted, making my way ahead of everyone to my car, when suddenly I heard my daughters voice yell out, “Daddy, Livia, (my five year old cousin) wants another hug.” I stopped and turned around and waited for her to run into my arms, there we hugged. When she broke loose of our embrace and ran back to her Mother, I knew I had been hugged, and I had hugged her. Life Was Good!
I want you to know, I really do love you! I really am for you!