On Tuesday, a California woman took a trip to the beach. Her daughter pushed her wheelchair into the water so she could feel the water at Laguna Beach rush onto her legs. Her joy was obvious, but it’s an experience she will never repeat.
This was her last trip to the beach, because she’s checking into a hospice facility to die.
For me, this bittersweet image tells a lot about the truth of the life we live on this planet. It can be sweet and joyful. It can be an amazing sensory experience. But it’s all too short — and death is always waiting at the end far too soon.
When I was a child, a year seemed like forever. Even an afternoon or a week could seem like forever sometimes. The time between one Christmas and the next was definitely eternity.
That changed slightly as I grew, but I was still always eager for the next step. Others seem to have shared this pattern. We were impatient for life to begin. Or, rather, we were impatient for what we thought life was going to be for us. We had high hopes and we believed that life would be different for us than it was for other people. We were going to be happy and successful. Our futures were unlimited.
Life would be very long for us. Death was so far away that it almost didn’t seem to exist.
And then life speeds up, a little bit at first and then more and more. For some of us, there’s a constant ticking clock to remind us that our days are limited. There’s love to find and there are people to love. There are children to create and raise. There are houses to build and goals to achieve. There’s so much to experience.
But there’s never enough time. No one seems to be on the same schedule we are. We make mistakes. Our mistakes catch up with us. We’re falling behind where we meant to be, but we can still catch up. We can still do all we meant to do. At least, we think so, even though we hear the clock ticking. And then it seems as though the clock is running faster — and we’re wondering whether love and achievement and enlightenment are going to find us in the ways we hoped and believed.
Before we know it, we’re closing in on the end of life. How did we get here? What happened to the years? Where is everything we expected?
I’m not yet at the end of life. In fact, I think I’m going to be here for many decades. But I think about that ticking clock and about what waits at the end of life. That makes me want to live my life is a fuller way. It makes me want the right kind of love and the right people around me.
I don’t know anything about the woman who took her last trip to the beach today. Maybe she’s lived a wonderful life full of love and she’s deeply valued by those around her. Or she might be full of regrets and the people around her could be angry at how she’s treated them. I’ll never know.
All I know is that she loved the beach so much that she wanted to experience it one more time — and she was joyful about what it felt like.
What do you love so much that you want to experience it one more time? How can you live in a way that others are going to be more likely to help you experience it when the time comes that you need them?
Those are complicated questions with a lot more considerations that I’m going to try to get into here. (And I don’t pretend to have all the answers yet.) But it’s worth thinking about. If you don’t think about what you want — today, tomorrow, next year and in your last days — you’re going to drift through this wonderful life and find yourself at the end without anything to show for having lived life.
If you don’t treat the people in your life in the right way, you’re going to end up alone. The decisions you make — and whether you’re willing to listen when people tell you how you’re affecting them — will determine whether you’re alone or if you have family and friends who love you and want to help you as you face the end.
If I knew I were about to die, I doubt I’d like about a trip to a beach. I’m not sure where I’d like to go, but I’m not sure it would matter — as long as I knew I’d lived in a way that the people I had loved were there with me because they loved me, too.