by Marlene Samuels
Today is a curveball day. I spend it contemplating an age-old philosophical question: If we knew the day on which we’d breathe our last breath, which day was to be our last on earth, would we do something special or differently? And with whom would we spend that one very last day?
I’ve read volumes about writing techniques–where and how to find prompts and about the importance of writing regularly, an activity both serious and worthwhile. We must make regular dates with ourselves to write just as we’d schedule lunch with friends or meetings with colleagues and wouldn’t be quick to cancel. One writing guide even advises, “Write as though it was your last day on earth.” But today, my “curveball” day, I really have to challenge that one! If today was, in fact, my very last day alive, would I really spend any part of it writing?
Today is a day on which I accomplish nothing tangible or that on the surface, looks productive. A “curve ball” day, I summon every ounce of stored knowledge about being a truly compassionate friend, supportive at a time when I myself have a need to be understood and supported.
My very long time friend (I’ll call her Marsha), ten years older than I, calls to relay unhappy news. Her husband just died, just–as in “just a few hours ago.” But he didn’t fade away, he didn’t suffer, wasn’t ill or elderly, or in an accident. Nope, not at all! He literally and simply just died, stopping right there in his tracks, ones that almost were ski tracks. It’s a beautiful day where they live. They’re in the mountains of Idaho. They’ve finished an entire day skiing in sunshine surrounded by majestic scenery. In the parking lot Robert puts their skis in through the SUV’s hatch. “My feet hurt.” He says. Thud, he falls over. He’s dead.
Well traveled, vigorous and adventuresome, they braved remote regions; Rwanda to see gorillas, the Yukon Territory to camp near polar bears, Patagonia to stay with gauchos crossing mountains by day on horseback along terrifying ridges. As Marsha describes forthcoming challenging trips, I ponder the inherent dangers. They could be mauled by bears, killed by rebels, die falling off a horse or tumble over cliffs. Why at their ages are they doing this craziness I ask? And when at home in Idaho, they hike, bike and kayak during summer and ski in winter.
Today I obsess about life’s tenuous nature. Today I consider the extent to which we take for granted that we’ll be here next month, next week, even tomorrow. We’ll take care of ourselves beginning next week, we’re too busy today. We’ll call that close friend we’ve been neglecting, hug our husbands, kids, or grandkids.
Tonight my husband and I are going to a movie we’ve been meaning to see. If Robert knew it was his last day, surely he wouldn’t have spent it any other way.
Marlene Samuels is a sociologist and writer interested in adoption issues, the changing American family, and aspects of regrets and subsequent choices. She has published short stories, essays, memoir and teaches research methodology workshops. Currently, she is completing a short story collection. She is co-host of the culinary website, www.expendableedibles.com and has published food related articles as well.