I don’t often visit cemeteries. But when I do, while walking the quiet green rows, I am mesmerized by the dates, doing swift calculations in my head to measure the length of each life.
There is shock when the dates reveal a life so short that one can only imagine illness or accident to have been the cause.
There is satisfaction when the life was long and (we hope) full.
There’s a moment of chill when the life was as long as our last birthday, and we’re reminded tomorrow is not guaranteed.
One day there will be an official date that will finalize the span of my life too. Clearly, I don’t know what that date is, but I can be sure it’ll be one of the 365 (or 366) days on the calendar. The same goes for you.
We live each of those days oblivious to the fact that one day it’ll be an anniversary to our friends and family.
Maybe my date will be today’s date, in a future year. Or it could be tomorrow’s date, or next week’s.
This is where friends and family usually stop me and say I think too much. But let’s follow this bunny trail anyway.
I remember this idea hitting home while watching a documentary about the death of Nicole Brown Simpson. Her birth and death dates flashed on the screen.
I froze. She and I share the exact same birthday. Month, day and year. I was stunned seeing my birthdate, a dash, and a death date. We entered this world on the exact same day in history, and yet she is already gone. Too soon and so violently.
It’s so easy to forget the reality that things can change in an instant. We make our to-do lists, fully expecting to be able to cross things off. We make plans for vacations, retirement or simply where to meet friends for dinner next week, fully expecting to enjoy these future events.
But when they actually happen, do we remember to be thankful? When we get to tomorrow, and then the next one, and then the next one, do we think to appreciate how many tomorrows we’ve been given?
With the recent resurgence of interest in the OJ Simpson trial, I’ve been reminded exactly how many more tomorrows I’ve been given than Nicole Brown Simpson. So many.
I think back to my life when she and I were both 35, the year she died. My daughter was only 6, just as her children were young. I’ve been fortunate to see my daughter grow into adulthood. She wasn’t.
I’ve lived to see inspirational events like the rescue of the Chilean coalminers, tragedies like 9/11, and technological advances like smartphones. Watching one of the shows that recap the year, usually broadcasted before New Year’s, is a reminder how much we experience in only one year. Now multiply that times 22. I’ve seen so much. She missed it all.
So what does all this mean and why do I feel its impact so deeply?
It’s a reminder to be grateful for every day on this earth. It’s a reminder that tomorrow is a gift.
“What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?” I’ve seen different versions of the same sentiment (and can’t find who said any of them) but the thought is often with me lately.
I feel close to God. We speak daily. Or rather, I talk to Him. I tell Him all kinds of things. And ask for all kinds of things. I don’t mean material things. I mean intercessory prayer on behalf of my family and friends. And every morning I ask for guidance as I go through my day.
But I start all my prayers with gratitude.
My Catholic upbringing kicks in and I hear the part of the mass where we all say, “It is right to give Him thanks and praise.”
And in fact, it is.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
Giving thanks is a good way to start the day and a good way to end the day.
But it’s also the best way to live the day.
So how can we cultivate mindfulness in order to fully appreciate all we have to be thankful for? Maybe a good place to start is with the five senses God gave us to appreciate the world.
- See. Our eyes touch so much and yet we don’t “see” the familiar. Truly look around. Outside as well as inside. Blue skies, budding trees, our homes, are all deserving of our attention and appreciation.
- Listen. When we are truly still, it is amazing how much sound is going on around us. Birds, cars, hums of appliances, music, voices. It’s the symphony of our lives.
- Touch. We lay our hands on many things during the course of a day. Anything or anyone you can hold or touch is worthy of thanks.
- Taste. Food and drink not only nourish us, but often bring us tremendous pleasure. If you have anything on your plate, in your fridge, or on your pantry shelves, you have something to be thankful for.
- Smell. This time of year is especially rich in outdoor scents. But what about the dinner on the stove, freshly washed hair when you kiss the top of a little one’s head, or the signature perfume of a dear friend? I’ve read that the sense of smell is a strong trigger for memories. What will you smell today that will be a memory tomorrow?
In order to notice the details of our lives that ordinarily pass us by as we rush from one thing to another, we must be present in the moment, even if only for a moment.
After all, this moment is all we know for certain that we have.
Everything else is a maybe.
How precious every day would be if we could remember that truth.
Staying grounded in gratitude takes practice. How do you do it?