I was at one of those wonderful fundraiser dinners the other night where high school students serve the food. Near the end of the evening, I took a break from my volunteer tasks and stood in line with a plate. As I got to the last young man, the line stalled at the dessert table so I struck up a conversation. “Are you a junior or senior this year?”
He was dark hair, dark eyes, bright smile, and had the anticipatory pride of one about to launch into the world at a particular moment in history that specifically needed the talents, skills, and abilities only he possessed, “Senior.”
The line kept me squarely in front of him as a mother indulged her four-year old in choosing from the dozen plus desserts so I hazarded a follow-up, “Have you attended here the entire time?”
He frowned, “What?”
It was my southern accent. I enunciated, “Have you been here the entire time?”
“Oh, no,” he said. “I just got here 30 minutes ago.”
“Really?” I was unabashedly impressed with his willingness to volunteer for an event so quickly.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “What did you ask?”
His ears were too quick for my drawl so I clarified at a faster clip, “Have you attended this school the entire four years?”
“Oh, yes. Yes, I’ve been here the entire time.”
The line started to move, I smiled and inched away. Note to Southern self: ask the right question clearly in a direct way at a quick clip. If confused by the answer, ask again. Getting the right answer may be work, but it could mean the difference between believing someone has just started attending the school 30 minutes earlier and discovering he had been there the entire four years or in my case, believing you only have 10 years to live and discovering you have 20.
I happened upon a quote that set me on this morbid thought path, “We only have 28,800 days to live. Make the most of them.” I was stunned. That can’t be right. 28,800 days doesn’t sound like very many. It isn’t, but it is correct. I looked it up. If you live to be about 80 years old, then that’s approximately 28,800 days. Obviously, no one knows exactly when you will die, but if you are going to go by the actuarial tables, this is the number you would use for figuring out insurance premiums and retirement funds and how long it will be before you go live with your children.
With a 28,800 allotment, I wondered how many I’d spent. Believe it or not, there are a dozen websites that will tell you just that. I plugged in my birthdate and there it was : 20,888. This unnerved me. Never one to trust my math abilities, I opened my spreadsheet. I had to know how many days I had left. According to calculations, I only had 3994 days left, which is approximately 10 years! My mind raced. I’ve just started this second (well third actually) career trajectory and it’s the most fun yet and I just finished the business plan and the marketing plan isn’t even implemented and the days absolutely whiz by. Plus we just moved to a rental, but found and made an offer on a house so I have all that packing and unpacking to do that will interfere with writing. Then there’s the new garden plot to develop and trees to plant, and the grandkids are into everything so there are school concerts, plays, dance recitals, sporting events, and summers. And travel— I haven’t been to Italy or Greece or even the Grand Canyon. Even if I didn’t go anywhere ever again, I haven’t made a dent in my reading list and books keep coming out and the list keeps getting longer. My work isn’t finished yet. I have more than 10 books I want to write and at my pace, I’m never going to get the first one finished. I woke up the next moment in psychic overwhelm. How did this happen?
It wasn’t that long ago I was the teenager serving food at a fundraiser dinner full of anticipatory pride, with the confidence the world needed my KSA’s at just that precise historical moment. It was even less time ago that my children were serving food at one of my many fundraiser dinners for one of their school activities. They were the ones full of anticipatory pride, and I was confident the world needed just their talents and skills and abilities at that exact moment in history. Now I have grandchildren and thank goodness, I haven’t had to go to any fundraiser dinners for them, but I’m sure there will be some because they are the brightest talents the universe has ever seen and well, you get the picture.
I put on my “resolved” hat, made a post-it note, started a calendar countdown sheet, created a list of priorities and started to work. I would do this. I would write like the wind, stop sleeping, cut back on eating, spend more time with my family, and never engage in small talk even with an adolescent who couldn’t understand my southern drawl while waiting in line for food at a fundraiser. No. Better than that. No more fundraisers. It’s a lot of work for a little funding. There are always more people asking than giving. I would give what I could, volunteer when I could, and align my values with my pocketbook and be done with it. Ha! I was burning daylight even thinking about it. I slapped the post-it note to the computer screen and quit for the day.
The post-it note fell off the computer while I was nursing a cold, finishing up the marketing plan, and completing my profiles in all the social media outlets “they” now say are absolutely necessary for high visibility. At the end of the week, I cleaned my desktop and found it. I hadn’t kept the countdown current to the day as planned or crossed many items off my list so back to the website I went to find out how many days I had now. I plugged those numbers into my spreadsheet and got 7908. I was stunned. That couldn’t be right, but it was. 7908. That’s OVER 20 years. I’ve never been so thrilled, ecstatic actually, to be wrong about something. I did a little happy dance. I did two little happy dances.
I danced around the room singing, “I have 20 years left to live!” If I take care of myself, if I stop stressing about the small things, if I eat right, exercise, drink more water and wear sunscreen, then there’s a really good chance I will see my grandchildren graduate, get that garden space in top-notch production capacity, attend another climate change demonstration, and write those books. 20 years. What could I do in 20 years? What COULDN’T I do in 20 years? I didn’t want to waste a minute. So I sat down to write out a plan and stalled like I was in the dessert line. So much to do and so little, but more time. With only and all of 20 years left to live, what would I do? Note to Southern self: ask the right question clearly in a direct way at a quick clip. If confused by the answer, ask again. So, I asked, “How am I going to make the most of every one of those 7908 days?” Bam! I knew.
I would touch more lives in a gentle way, fill my heart with love and my mind with goodness and act with kindness and courage and compassion. I would do that. I could do that every day for the next 7908 days and I wouldn’t need a post-it note, calendar countdown or a list. I put on my “resolved” hat, hit the close button on the spreadsheet, threw the post-it away, went into the kitchen and hugged my husband.
I won’t finish it all or at all, but I can ask how I’m fulfilling my potential each and every day and act always and only as my highest and best self. I may forget. I may fall. I may even burn daylight and the occasional night light thinking about it. Of this, I am confident; however, I’m taking a little anticipatory pride in believing this is what the world needs, at least from me, at this exact, precise, specific moment in history.
But I’m still not doing any more fundraising dinners.