“I wish I could almost get hit by a bus,” I used to tell people, referring to my desire for the kind of wake-up call that would straighten out my priorities and that seem to accompany most near death experiences. Of course, we can’t orchestrate most life changing events, and when mine arrived, it was quieter but deeper than I had expected.
When I was a young adult, my eagerness for financial security and approval caused me to focus most of my energy on my job as a college English instructor. As a result, I missed many occasions with close friends. “I should call Karen,” I’d say, but I’d bypass the phone for the next stack of papers. I didn’t travel to visit friends who lived out of town, and I missed a going away party for someone I love dearly who was moving across the country. My obsessive work habits helped me land a secure faculty position at a community college, a success that reinforced my single-mindedness.
When I was thirty-six and had been teaching eight years, my mother’s closest friend since childhood, Pat, passed away. By that time I had lost several close family members and was no stranger to my own or others’ grief. However, as the last of the mourners filed past Pat’s coffin I was struck by seeing one of her closest friends from high school bowed over her body, his face stricken with shock and loss. He remained motionless for around a minute before collecting himself and moving on. In the days that followed, my thoughts returned to this image again and again. I then thought about my own closest friends, some of whom I’ve known since elementary school. All of them had brought comfort, joy and immeasurable laughter into my life. I thought about how when my parents had died, they had rallied around my family, sharing our happy memories as well as our sorrow. I realized that friends are life’s greatest gift, and it is foolish to take them for granted because our time together will end one day.
Since Pat’s funeral, I’ve made spending time with my friends a priority. I no longer teach summer school so I’ll have more time for visiting, and I’ve reconnected with some people with whom I’d lost touch. Now that my life is more centered on the people I love, other areas of life have also bloomed: The world seems kinder, more colorful, and more beautiful. And I no longer wish almost to get hit by a bus.
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