I believe that time is our most precious commodity. And like everything that is precious, it must be guarded against the many fears that threaten it. Although I have always felt a strong sense of immediacy about life, this sense was recently intensified by a nearly fatal experience.
In October my daughter, Jamie, and her husband, Brian, spent three weeks in Sao Paolo, Brazil. They were there for the wedding of her brother-in-law, David, but something happened that would cast a pall over the festivities. Jamie, Brian and David were wading in waist-deep water off a remote island, when a tide came in and ripped the ground from beneath their feet. Caught completely by surprise, Jamie tried to swim against the current, but was overcome by the waves, swallowed water, and prepared to die. Meanwhile, the others struggled toward the shore, unaware that she was in trouble. Jamie was alone out there for what, to her, seemed an eternity, but in reality was only about five minutes. When I asked her what her thoughts were during that time, she said they were about how short her life had been and how sad an errand for the bearer of the news that I would receive. After that she remembered nothing until she found herself on the sand, her lungs burning from the salt water and the coughing.
I listened carefully as she spoke. A warm stillness flooded over me, and my words were calm and soothing in tone. The words of a mother to her injured and beloved child. But afterwards, the stillness receded and I was overcome with grief and fear. Images of her struggle flashed through my brain, images in which I was there, unable to help her. My fear was so real, I’d almost forgotten that Jamie didn’t drown.
It was not until the second day that I realized I was wasting precious minutes of my life worrying about something that never happened. Jamie is seeing a counselor, but she is healing swiftly. I’ve decided to stop imagining all the “what if’s,” and instead, to spend that time being grateful for “what is.” I too am healing.
In my search for comfort I found this quote from Emily Dickinson: “To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.” How sad to spend my time here paralyzed with fear, unable to participate in life’s perpetual newness. And so today I pledge to guard my remaining time carefully against fear in all its disguises, to put fear behind me quickly when it does come, and to be “startled” by life every day. And this what I believe.
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