The saying “before it’s too late” has new meaning to me now that I volunteer at a senior center. Even though it has been several months, my eyes still widen when I receive concerned comments like, “We wondered where you were,” from the seniors if I chop vegetables or wash dishes in the kitchen, instead of serving meals. Let me tell you, the seniors know who is present. They check on one another, make the phone call, report illness and stay in touch, because at 81, or 87 or 93, you better believe they understand the limitations mandated by time.
Serving lunches at the center one day a week, provides me with an ongoing, real-time reminder that nothing is forever, a concept that I ignored for long years. Before 2009, the days were crammed with the physical and mental execution of eight-hours of work, supplemented with a home to run and a never ending personal “to-do” list. Life chugged on, crowded with errands, worries and occasional failed attempts to keep track of it all. If the thought of the unopened box with the words “someday” scribbled in black Magic-Marker resting on a shelf at the back of my brain trickled up, I shoved it aside. “Someday,” after all, wouldn’t arrive for years. Then the job change occurred, offering me the motive and opportunity to stand on tiptoe, sneeze at the dust and yank that neglected container down.
By now you know that as soon as I opened the lid, it didn’t take long to understand that “someday” had transfigured into “now” as it pertains to writing. A few weeks later though, I dug into the box again and pulled out another “someday;” this one wound in delicate tissue, labeled: “Do something that matters.” The wrapping fell off that sucker the day I started volunteering with the seniors. Through that experience, I’ve learned one of my most important lessons to date.
I have a theory that the majority of us who are healthy, and say, under the age of 70, upon hearing the cliché, “Live each day as if it is your last,” for the most part brush aside the statement and scurry on. “Who me?” we are inclined to think? “I’m only 25, 30, 40, or 65.” Life, of course, would be miserable if we spent every day dreading invisible tumors or the possibility that the plane might crash. Human nature dictates that we cast off thoughts of illnesses or accidents. So, counting on more time, we allow those boxes of dreams to molder at the back of the closet.
The seniors though, well, they get it. Through them, I am starting to, too. Each week as I tread up the rubber coated ramp from the kitchen to survey the crowd, I cross my fingers that no regular chair is empty. More than once over the course of the last several months, tears have poured down a lined face during lunch, after a friend has disappeared for good. When you are that age, there is no such thing as “someday.” There is only “today,” and “maybe tomorrow,” which I was reminded of when a woman asked me to retrieve a piece of tinfoil from the kitchen last week. When I took too long she grinned and said: “You better hurry up. I’m 85 year’s old.”
Laughing, I hustled down to do her bidding, thinking that life is more engaging due to this exposure to the seniors. As a recovering master procrastinator, I now enforce time limits on myself, confronting “now” instead shoving things off on “someday.” Don't get me wrong. I am not scheduling a world tour, or planning to hike Mount Everest. The cruise to the Alaskan glaciers remains a trip for an optimistic future.
I do though, try to make the phone call or email that in the past I would have put aside. I say words I want people to hear, drive down a street that intrigues me, hike the trail because the sun is out, bring my daughter to sit by the ocean when the waves are high. Each day, I try to wrap myself around the idea that since there is no guarantee; it is prudent to act with some immediacy.
Like a frequent traveler rushing for a flight, I have stepped off the people-mover and am strolling down the linoleum floor, touching the intricate items for sale in the shops lining the wall. Fingering soft merchandise, I eyeball the forward-facing people whizzing by on the conveyor and recognize how much value there is to embracing the word "maybe."
What would you do now, if tomorrow was only a “maybe?”