In just five days, when December 20th comes to a close, autumn leaves and we brace for winter. How many of us remember the start of 2015 as though it took place a mere few months ago? Then multiply that feeling by 10 and a decade has passed. How easy it is to forego an extra hour for Law & Order, a further hour for Judge Judy, confident that the time could well be made up tomorrow, next month, next year…. Fill in the blanks for any activity that stretches a bit too far and the hours add up like credit-card interest, unable to be recouped and ultimately a waste.
To be sure, those few extra hours in bed or relaxing in front of the browser, cup of tea in hand while nursing a cold, or that two-week vacation in Paris or Prague after an intense and productive period of work, are both wise and rejuvenating. Yet day to day, this extra 10 minutes here or that 15 minutes there can add up to hours each day, dozens each week and hundreds beyond.
Recognizing the brevity and preciousness of life is a prime starting point that teenagers rarely display, that 20-year-olds are generally immune to, that 30-year-olds only begin to sense, that 40-year-olds start to understand, that 50-year-olds tend to embrace, that 60- and 70-year-olds long to maximize, and that 80- and 90-year-olds accept with either resignation or satisfaction depending on whether having lived an unfulfilled or satisfying life.
This awareness goes a long way in separating what really matters from what simply musters, let alone minimizing the daily stressors that ultimately carry little import. The body and brain—that lyrical duet playing in concert—then do their part in offering adrenaline, endorphins, dopamine, serotonin et al.
A sensitive perspective also reveals layers of appreciation and insight. Writing in today’s New York Times, Stefan Friedrichsdorf brings us back to the beginning of breath, reminding never to take a day for granted: “Our interdisciplinary team has met the families of many children facing life-limiting conditions. Each case is heartbreaking, tragic and utterly unfair in its own way. Our role at Children’s Minnesota—one that still goes unfilled at many pediatric hospitals—is to work with families on a plan to help their child live as long as possible, as well as possible.”
As long as possible, as well as possible. When the end of breath inevitably comes, when winter, spring, summer and autumn leave, if we can utter or think these words with the force of reality and truth, then how much easier to brace for the coda.