Six months ago today, I had surgery to remove cancer in my left breast. It was an episode so far out of my normal experience of life that it almost seems as though it never happened. And now, six months later, one of my best friends is going in for major surgery today, too.
When I had my brush with cancer, I didn’t think I was going to die, but I knew it was a possibility. As my friend goes in for some serious surgery, I don’t expect her to die, either, but I know that she could die. We all react differently to the idea of death. Some people get depressed. Some people think of others they’ve lost. It has a different effect on me. It makes me think seriously about life.
I don’t know about you, but I have a terrible habit of taking life for granted. There have been certain chunks of my life when I’ve absolutely wasted my time, simply because it seemed as though my time was almost limitless. When I’ve done that, I’ve felt bored and unfulfilled. I think that’s one of the real causes of some people turning to various kinds of drugs or other addictions. (For me, the addiction was sugar. I’ve written before about feeling like a “sugarholic.”)
But when you think about how limited life can be — and the inevitability of its ending — it makes you want to use it more wisely. It makes you want to figure out what really matters to you. It makes you want to adjust how you’re spending your time and who you’re spending your time with.
I felt this way six months ago, and I’m feeling that same queasy feeling right now as I think about my friend’s surgery today. In these last six months, I feel as though I’ve changed. I don’t know whether it’s visible to anyone else, but I feel as though I care a little less about whether others agree with me. I feel more of an urgency to do some things that matter. And I feel a much greater sense of urgency about changing who I’m around.
When you get to the end of your life, what do you want to look back and see that you’ve done? Do you want to see that you’ve invested your hours at an office and that you’ve earned a lot of money? Do you want to see that you’ve spent your years concentrating on political activism of one kind or another? Or would you rather see that you’ve invested time in building the kind of loving family you want? If you’re a Christian, would you like to know that you’ve spend your time seeking and following God’s will for your life?
Some people never get to the point of realizing that they’ve wasted their lives and that there was no purpose to their lives. Others are fortunate enough to get a gnawing feeling somewhere along the way that something’s wrong and that something needs to change. It can be a painful process to learn enough about yourself to hunger for something else, but if you’re able to create real change in your life because of it, the pain of self-discovery can be worth it.
I’ve wasted a lot of time, but I’m emotionally more awake than I’ve ever been. I’ve clarified the things that are important to me. Life matters more than ever. Family matters more to me than ever. Love matters more to me than ever. Serving God and changing the world for the better matter to me even more than ever.
I can’t go back and become a baby again in order to relive my life and make up for the wasted time. The baby that’s born today — such as the one above — will have to go through the same mistakes that each of us has gone through (and maybe some of his own that hasn’t even occurred to us). The only thing we can do is start where we are and work to make each day matter. And that’s hard to do, even when you’re sure it’s what you want.
Life is a precious gift. I’ve wasted too much of that gift, but I’m learning how to squeeze more out of it and make it matter. I’m still learning and I’ll keep learning. At least I understand what the goal is now, though.
As my friend goes in for surgery, I pray that she’s safe and that everything will be fine in the end. I don’t like watching her go through this, just as I didn’t like going through something similar six months ago. But if things such as this — very light brushes against death — are the best way to get us to wake up and find more meaning in life, it’s worth the pain of going through them.