Sometimes we set out to help someone else, then realize in the end that they helped us even more.
I visited a friend last weekend, just two days after she lost her husband. Only 53, he died too soon -- suddenly, without warning, in the early hours of a Thursday morning. I wanted her to know I cared. I wanted to help.
"Don't take anything for granted."
The words drifted quietly from my friend's lips and into my ear as I hugged her goodbye. As I made my way down the walkway to my car, they resonated softly in my mind. And as I closed the car door and pulled the seatbelt across my chest, those five words sank deeper, down into my heart, I suppose, and became as crystal clear as if I had never heard them before in my life. Don't take anything for granted.
I have said those words before, myself. Heard them hundreds of times, too. But I don't think I really meant them -- really knew what they meant -- until now. Not really.
How many times have I hung up the telephone with someone I care about without saying I love you, or left the house with only a quick goodbye? How many times have I put off calling my mother because I was too tired, or told my children that we would do it tomorrow?
Fifty? A hundred times? More than that, I have no doubt. I'm guilty of thinking there will always be a tomorrow to do the things I need to do, say the things I need to say, be the person I need to be. But who do I think I am? There's no guarantee. Not for me, not for the wealthiest man in the universe or the poorest person on earth, the most devoutly religious person or the infinitely lost soul. We are all equal in that regard -- none of us is guaranteed tomorrow.
I once knew a woman who would argue that she took spectacular care of herself, was there every time the church door opened, lived clean and honestly -- there was no way she would die before she had lived a very long, prosperous life. She even guaranteed it, saying she knew what it took to live a long time. A year after I first met her, she was killed in an accident. Suddenly. Without warning. She was gone.
My father found out he had cancer on a day early in September. A year and two weeks later, he passed away. It was not sudden. It was not without warning. But he was gone, all the same. We were never an overly affectionate family, didn't say I love you every day. We always knew it, but didn't say it. That's when I learned that I shouldn't take for granted that someone knows how I feel -- I should tell them. I learned at a young age that tomorrow is a gift, not a given. That was 22 years ago, and through the years I've gotten lax. Gone back to waiting, being rushed, thinking that tomorrow is another day.
Last weekend, I set out to help someone else and, in the end, she helped me even more. She reminded me that everything we have, everything we hold dear, can be gone in a moment.
"Don't take anything for granted," she said, almost in a whisper.
But I heard her. I heard her loud and clear.
Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.