This story was written by Ann Wells and came into my life when I was a member of a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing team in the 1990s. The CISD team helped firefighters, EMTs, law enforcement, dispatchers, and other emergency services people deal with the psychological trauma we experienced in our work. Serving on this team was a most satisfying experience. This story was written in 1985 and is about living in the present and not saving it for something special. It has been a reminder to me to live life today.
A STORY TO LIVE BY
My brother-in-law opened the bottom drawer of my sister’s bureau and lifted out a tissue-wrapped package. “This,” he said, “is not a slip. This is lingerie.” He discarded the tissue and handed me the slip. It was exquisite; silk, handmade and trimmed with a cobweb of lace. The price tag with an astronomical figure on it was still attached. “Jan bought this the first time we went to New York, at least 8 or 9 years ago. She never wore it. She was saving it for a special occasion. Well, I guess this is the occasion. ” He took the slip from me and put it on the bed with the other clothes we were taking to the mortician. His hands lingered on the soft material for a moment, then he slammed the drawer shut and turned to me.
“Don’t ever save anything for a special occasion. Every day you’re alive is a special occasion.”
I remembered those words through the funeral and the days that followed when I helped him and my niece attend to all the sad chores that follow an unexpected death. I thought about them on the plane returning to California from the Midwestern town where my sister’s family lives. I thought about all the things that she hadn’t seen or heard or done. I thought about the things that she had done without realizing that they were special.
I’m still thinking about his words, and they’ve changed my life.
I’m reading more and dusting less. I’m sitting on the deck and admiring the view without fussing about the weeds in the garden. I’m spending more time with my family and friends and less time in committee meetings. Whenever possible, life should be a pattern of experience to savor, not endure. I’m trying to recognize these moments now and cherish them.
I’m not “saving” anything; we use our good china and crystal for every special event-such as losing a pound, getting the sink unstopped, the first camellia blossom. I wear my good blazer to the market if I feel like it. My theory is if I look prosperous, I can shell out $28.49 for one small bag of groceries without wincing. I’m not saving my good perfume for special parties; clerks in hardware stores and tellers in banks have noses that function as well as my party-going friends’.
“Someday” and “one of these days” are losing their grip on my vocabulary. If it’s worth seeing or hearing or doing, I want to see and hear and do it now. I’m not sure what my sister would have done had she known that she wouldn’t be here for the tomorrow we all take for granted. I think she would have called family members and a few close friends. She might have called a few former friends to apologize and mend fences for past squabbles. I like to think she would have gone out for a Chinese dinner, her favorite food. I’m guessing–I’ll never know.
It’s those little things left undone that would make me angry if I knew that my hours were limited. Angry because I put off seeing good friends whom I was going to get in touch with–someday. Angry because I hadn’t written certain letters that I intended to write-one of these days. Angry and sorry that I didn’t tell my husband and daughter often enough how much truly love them. I’m trying very hard not to put off, hold back, or save anything that would add laughter and luster to our lives.
And every morning when I open my eyes, I tell myself that it is special. Every day, every minute, every breath truly is…a gift from God.
by Ann Wells : Los Angeles Times : 4/14/85