This past Sunday, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I am sure many of us relieved that day. We can all recall with clarity rare to ten year old memories where we were when we first heard of the attack, and how we spent the day huddled around televisions and radios awaiting more information. When I think back to 9/11 there is one personal story that I want to share with you today.
On the morning of 9/11 my mom and Gregg, a man who had been a father to me for the past 10 years, were horror struck watching as the terrorist attacks occurred. For various reasons they had been delaying getting married, yet at this time were starting to discuss it as a way to protect each other in the event of one’s untimely death. That morning they resolved that by the end of the year they would get married and started making plans to get married around the holidays. However, it was only the end of September that Gregg went into the hospital complaining of pain in the abdomen. On October 1, 2011 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and succumbed to the disease one month later. He and my mother did manage to marry prior to the very end; however they had to jump through a number of bureaucratic hoops to get the marriage license and it eventually took place with only my brother and I as witnesses in the ICU.
More recently I learned that the mother of my very best friend has been given a timeline of roughly six months to a year before the cancer she has been battling for the past five years will finally win out. This woman, Maura, was always willing to talk to me about anything, feed me when I needed to eat, and give me a realistic boost of self esteem if she could see I was being too hard on myself – not to mention she is the mother of the very best friend anyone could possibly imagine. We all knew that this news was likely to come, we had in fact been waiting for it for years, always taking a deep breath before every doctor appointment to prepare ourselves for it and yet we still felt shell shocked when it came down. Now, we know that six months or a year can be arbitrary and that many people do much better than that; however, we also know that she is really quite sick at this moment.
In a way, when you compare Maura’s case to Gregg’s or even to those who had their lives taken from them on 9/11, Maura may seem blessed to have the foresight. Seemingly she has time to do all those things she has put off doing her whole life and to really focus on taking care of herself and spending time with loved ones in whatever time remains. I am sure that you have at one point imagined what you would do with your time if you were given a timeline. After all, at that point there is not much left to lose. It could be that we think of quitting our job and purchasing an exotic automobile for that trip around the country we have been dreaming of taking for years. Perhaps, for you, it is your fantasy to do nothing but the things you enjoy for the next six months – golfing, sunbathing, or spending time with family. Whatever it is, in our imagination we seem to consider that being given a timeline for our own death that we would have the inclination and the energy to do those things we have been putting off all of our lives right then.
The thing for Maura, and for most people who have been given a timeline like this though is that she is too sick to do any of those things. For years now just going to a doctor appointment in the morning has been enough to exhaust her for the remainder of the day. The treatment has left her unable to complete a crossword puzzle or read a novel all the way through – once her favorite means of relaxation, because her memory has been affected by the radiation. All those things that she might have put off, or would even want to do now that she has been given her timeline are out of her reach – she physically cannot handle them.
This past Sunday as I watched the coverage of the 10 year anniversary of the terrorist attacks, with thoughts of Maura and my dear friend in mind, I was once again reminded of how right my mom and Gregg were that morning. How much can we put off the things we want and need to do? If there is one lesson I learned from the national and my personal tragedies of 2001 it is this; if it is important, take action. The opportunity is not guaranteed. As you think back over the past 10 years, as you remember the moments you first heard and saw the terrorist attacks of 9/11 please remember all those who gave their lives on that day, yet also be sure to set a moment aside to be grateful for your own and create a plan to do all those things you want to do while you still can. Want to go to Paris? Make a plan and follow it through now because you might not be able to when, and if, you are told that you are nearing the end. Wish you could spend more time with the family now? Make it a priority while you are well. Figuring out what would be on our list of dreams if we were given a timeline is easy, making them happen now is exactly what coaching and accountability are all about. I would be remiss to not urge all of you to follow through on your dreams today – make a plan, break it down into smaller goals, and get someone to hold you accountable to doing them. Live on the edge, and remember to hold your loved ones close.