Yesterday, February 17, would have been my mother’s 87th birthday had she not died nearly 30 years ago of a heart attack. It is odd to think that my mother has been gone for half my life. I think of all the things she missed: grandkids’ births and confirmations and ball games and graduations and weddings and becoming parents themselves. I think of how she never experienced cell phones or laptops or tablets. I think she would have little use for the first two but I think she would have loved to have a tablet on which she could download library books at any time of the day or night—Mom was a voracious reader. I think of all the advances in medical science that have come in the past generation-and-a-half, which may have been of benefit to the patients she cared for as a nurse. And I wonder if some of those medical advances could have helped prolong her life—or maybe not.
I’ve shared this so many times that if you’ve heard it before, please bear with me. When I was a fairly new pastor, a wise man—who was dying— told me that we all have to die of something and we don’t get to choose. I have pondered that wisdom for almost 20 years, and its abiding truth that we nearly always die of something not of our choosing—whether it is an accident or a disease or an addiction or a sudden, massive heart attack for which there were no prior symptoms.
For some, coming to this reality might lead them to try to do all the things they think they want to do before death seeks them out. Perhaps they might travel to exotic places or change careers or move to their dream home. I think those may be wonderful ideas for some, but not always financially possible or logistically reasonable for most of us.
In the case of my wise parishioner-friend, his cancer was so far gone when he was diagnosed that even if he’d wanted to do the more exotic things, he could not have. Instead, he used his final months to become more kind, more gentle, more merciful, more compassionate towards those around him: his family, his friends, his caregivers, his pastor. He was already a very good man, but as he faced the end of his earthly existence, he chose to spend his final days becoming more like Christ.
That’s always a good choice, of course—to become more like Christ—even when we are not dying. But it’s very tempting to think that we’ll always have tomorrow to forgive someone or repair a relationship or spend more time with our families or sit and look at the clouds for no reason other than clouds are beautiful.
One day, perhaps when we least expect it, we will have no more tomorrows. So why wait? Why not seek to forgive today, to act with compassion today, to show kindness today, to look at the clouds today? Why not seek to love our family and friends even more fully today? They deserve it. You deserve it. And then you will not need to worry about tomorrow for you have chosen today to be like Christ.
Happy birthday, Mom. I still miss you.