I know my northern friends are suffering frigid winter temperatures right now and dearly waiting for more travel stories and pictures from warm and sunny Baja. I promise to post more of those soon, but today, as my first post of 2015, I need to share some thoughts from my heart.
Back in September, when I learned that Millie’s cancer had returned, I vowed to make whatever remaining months or years Millie might have as enjoyable as I could make them. Finding her great, warm places to swim was (and will continue to be) a top priority, like this gorgeous beach (Playa Santispac) that we camped at recently in Baja.
2014 was a transformational and completely mind-bending year for me—my first full year of being intentionally jobless and the year I sold almost all of my possessions to live in a 130 square foot rolling home. Friends and blog readers have often commented “you’re living the life others only ever dream about” and it is the honest truth that I never go through a day without at least a brief feeling of gratitude for the incredible freedom and blessed life that I currently live. But every day is not picture-perfect postcard.
After 4 days of paradise at the beach, I returned to Loreto (and the conveniences of a cell/internet connection) on Christmas Eve looking forward to connecting with family via phone and catching up with friends and news of the world via Internet. Firing up Facebook, I was sad to hear news that my childhood friend’s mom had finally lost a long battle with cancer, and not 2 minutes after reading that, was shocked to discover that another cherished friend and old classmate had just received a frightful cancer diagnosis himself.
That news set the tone for a pretty depressing Christmas day. It was my first Christmas spent entirely alone, and the first without any presents (not counting a few sloppy kisses and companionship from Millie). I thought the RV park would be as social as it had been a week before, but now on Christmas Eve, I seemed to be surrounded by Gringo RVers who preferred to keep the spirit of the day to themselves rather than even share a simple “Merry Christmas” greeting with their neighbor.
I finally pulled myself up by mid-day to take Millie for a walk along the Malecon. As I walked down the side streets passing small, and VERY humble homes, I passed a few other lone townspeople out walking. Each and every person looked me in the eye, smiled, and said “Feliz Navidad” as I said and did the same back to them. Such a simple, fast, and completely free gesture, that made my day feel a bit less lonely and lost. Could my greeting have made as powerful an impact to one of them?
It was certainly something to contemplate as I learn to live a new life defined less by material possessions, and more by personal actions.
Three days ago, I learned that another high school classmate had just died on New Year’s Day from cancer. I had not kept in touch with her after high school, but Lisa was one of those people you seldom forget. She was our class president, and if I remember right, voted “most likely to succeed.” Succeed, she most certainly did! She graduated at the top of our class, earned a law degree, married, and had 3 children. She was an active member of her church and community, volunteered her time often to help those less fortunate, and from what I can glean from others who knew her in recent years, she remained as selfless and giving as she had been in high school. One of those rare souls who manage to be universally admired by everyone they meet..
For the last 3 years, Lisa kept an online journal of her final journey, sharing the ups and downs of living with cancer. In January 2013, doctors advised her that she only had about one good year left to live. After overcoming the initial shock of the news, she decided to give that year literally everything she had! She called it her “Living for Now” tour, and set out to compress decades worth of life events down into just a single year.
Lisa left her job, planned visits with friends and family around the country, and tried to experience as many things as she was physically able. Some were easy enough, like swimming with dolphins. While others defied the boundaries normally expected of a cancer patient—she bicycled a marathon to raise money for a friend with MS, and even went skydiving!
The last entry of her journal (that she was able to write herself) included this enlightened summary:
This journey has given me a chance to be very philosophical about life and death. I have done my best to share some of those realizations with each of you. I hope that maybe you have made some decisions in your life that will bring you more joy but also will expand that joy to those you love. If one or two of my entries resonated with you, then I feel I will remain among you even in a limited way.
Some of you have shared with me that my journal entries have encouraged them to be better people, to try harder, love deeper, and be more intentional in one's life. Life really is just so fragile and the tragedies we see around us daily confirm we suffer ongoing injustice. Yet, people reach inside themselves and try to do SOMETHING to make this world a better place.
In her brief 53 years, Lisa lived and gave more than most others will likely ever do by the time they’re 95. But her story was also a reminder that it is never too late to live your dreams. One can still achieve some incredible things with just one final good year of their life.
The saying “Live each day as if it’s your last”, has often been hard for me to put into action. Some days, I finish up thinking of that saying and feel truly deflated. I’ve just squandered yet another perfectly fine day to accomplish absolutely nothing of any value to myself or to others!
But, maybe a single day is just too unrealistic a timeframe. So short, that it sets you up for failure before you even begin! So, perhaps a year is really the better yardstick to work with.
Looking back at my entire year of 2014 makes me feel much more satisfied…amazing accomplishments when I think about them in sum!
So, my goal for 2015 is to make it meaningful. To give more to others than I get. To share and encourage others to stop waiting to live their dreams, and start moving mountains (and making those tough prioritization decisions) to start living them now. To be nicer person to my family, friends, and neighbors. To forgive, and be more humble.
And to honestly live this year as if it were the very last…because be it cancer, a heart attack, or slipping on a banana peel in paradise, good health really can flip in an instant. Life, indeed, is fragile. Make this year count!