It was really late and my four-year old little boy Will was still awake. I took him upstairs to brush his teeth and for him to use the bathroom before bed. While he was peeing in the toilet he exclaimed, “This is the best day ever! Right dad?”
His question completely caught me off guard.
While I put the toothpaste on his toothbrush, in that split-second, I had to think about it. I was completely exhausted from an incredibly long day. It wasn’t just a long day at work, we had one kid who cheered at a basketball game and another kid who had a swim meet in another town. My wife and I split events that night and I went to the one out of town. I was beat, but my mind was now racing. Is this the greatest day ever? If I say yes, do I really even believe that? If I say no, what will he think?
As I took a deep breath, I realized in that moment that it was truly the greatest day ever.
I was able to drink coffee that morning and go to work. I was able to watch my daughter swim and spend time with my in-laws at the event. I was able to eat supper that evening. I am in great health. I came home to a roof over my head. My wife and three kids were all at home that night. I was alive and breathing and truly taking it all in and appreciating the small things. I believed it. I really did. It was the greatest day ever.
“Yeah buddy, this is the best day ever.” His smile, as he looked me in the eyes, told me that he was glad I agreed.
Having a perspective that enjoys the present moment and lives it to the fullest has been a long and winding road for me. And God has used a variety of people and situations along the way to open my eyes and heart to the beauty of every moment.
One of those people was my neighbor who lived across the street from me. He was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year and passed away just the other day. Way too early.
It was a scorcher, one late summer afternoon a couple of years ago. I was mowing my lawn, and if you have ever seen me mow… it is like a race. I push the mower as fast as I can physically push it. Not so much because I hate mowing (because I don’t hate it), it’s just that 99% of the time I have somewhere to go and am trying to finish as soon as possible.
As I was dumping the last bag of grass and preparing to clean up around the house, I felt as if someone was staring at me. I subtly looked over my shoulder and saw my neighbor standing in his driveway with his hands on his hips staring at me. I nonchalantly went about my business as if I did not see him staring at me. But as I continued to clean up it became obvious that he was not going to stop staring. So I looked at him and politely waved without having to take off my headphones or break my pace, to which he politely waved back.
But he kept staring at me.
Finally I stopped the blower and took off my headphones, “Hey, how’s it going?”
“Good! It’s hot out here. Why don’t you come over and get in the lake to cool down?”
“Nah, that’s ok. I need to finish up here.”
Undeterred by my refusal he tried again, “I absolutely insist. Come over and we will jump in the lake and talk for a while.”
“You know, I really don’t like to get in lakes (I’m weird like that), but I sure appreciate the offer!”
“Well I am not going to stop asking until you come over.”
And it was at that point that I submitted. I was going to go across the street and get in that lake. His insistence overpowered my excuses and my resolve to finish cleaning up around my house at breakneck pace.
I walked behind his house and waded into the cool water with my clothes on. I had to admit it felt really good. Before long my neighbor came out of his house smiling from ear to ear with a beverage in each hand, one of which he shared with me as he got in water. For the next hour we talked, cooled down, and watched the sunset with brilliant hues painting the evening sky.
It was good. And I will never forget it.
It wasn’t anything that he said necessarily that opened my eyes or changed my perspective, it was his simple insistence that I stop the 100 mile-per-hour rat race and take time to enjoy the moment, the conversation, and what is around me.
He also made it a point to offer insight into all of the topics about which I should be writing for my blog and for the newspaper. And it was quite an array of subjects, many of which I could only return a smile or a laugh! Some were good, some were not so good. And as it turned out, I never used any of his suggestions from that day in the lake. I am not sure he even expected me to.
I am certain, though, he would be honored to know that he did unknowingly give me a great moment about which to write, a profound life lesson learned that day in the lake- stop and breath and live every moment to the fullest.
Sometimes we think that this “life to the fullest” is something that will eventually come, something we will experience one day in the future.
When I get the promotion.
When I get that raise.
When things slow down.
When we pay off the bills or pay off the student loans or pay off the house.
When the kids get older and can wipe for themselves or give themselves a bath or make their own meals.
When I get my kids graduated.
When I finally get to retire.
It goes on and on and on.
We can convince ourselves that our life fulfillment will be here one day…eventually… when things finally settle down. Then we will be able to breathe at last and take it all in and appreciate it.
But the truth is that we can very easily miss the fact that “life to the fullest” has been here all along… right in front of us… in everything we do… in every moment.
A rich and full life is not a future destination, it is a present experience. Be here now. Breathe deep. Take it all in. And give thanks with every breath.
In memory of my good neighbor and friend, David Ransdell.
Rest in peace…