March is turning out to be a month that reminds me time and time again that not only is life short and ﬂ eeting, it can change in an instant. What seems our reality — even our destiny — one moment can be something entirely different in the blink of an eye, perhaps because of some decision or action on our part, but then again, perhaps not.
So far this month, I have attended a bridal shower where the bride, already an enthusiastic and accomplished cook, was almost buried in kitchen gadgets and a baby shower, where the expectant mother received all things blue for her ﬁ rst child which modern technology has revealed will be a son. Both these young women are excited and full of hope for their futures.
Our bride, as do many young women in this military community, came to our country to be with her beau and will marry him in only a few weeks. Her family will come from thousands of miles away, and when the festivities are complete, she and her new husband will settle into married life. For her, it will also be a permanent settling into life in a country far away from her native land and far away from the people and places she knew and loved as she grew up.
Our mother-to-be is thrilled that she and her husband are about to become parents, as are both of their families. What I did not really understand when I ﬁ rst became a mother, and what she may not yet thoroughly grasp, is that being a parent is forever. It is a job, a responsibility, and a labor of sheer love that changes but will continue as long as one draws breath and beyond. My parents have been gone for many years, but I still hear their words in my head and ask myself what they would think about something going on in my life or in the larger world.
Marriages and babies are life-changing, of course, but March has also brought changes as life ends. So far this month, I have been stunned by three passings. One was a friend of long standing with whom I recently made a lunch date for early April. Days later, she was dead, under circumstances no one understands and which have yet to be resolved. I believe there will be answers to the questions surrounding her death, but she is gone nevertheless, leaving her family and friends with a sense of loss and bewilderment and of a life cut short.
The others were acquaintances who died in a car accident on a sunny weekday morning as they went about their daily routines, in the same way you and I drive to our ofﬁ ces, to school and run our regular errands. Again, there is the sense of lives ended before they were ﬁ nished.
I cannot help but remember one of the pivotal experiences of my motherhood, the day one of my precious jewel’s arm was pinned under another mother’s car pool vehicle, which had been struck and overturned on the way home from an ordinary school program. His arm was badly injured, but blessedly he recovered.
In the 20 years since that accident, the thought that comes to me time and time again is how very different our lives would have been had it been his head under that van instead of his arm.
I am reminded of the school of 17th century English poetry taught to college English majors, exempliﬁ ed by the likes of Robert Herrick and Andrew Marvel. Taking a cue from ancient poets, they encourage their readers to “seize the day,” carpe diem in Latin, lest life pass you by before you have a chance to experience all it holds for you. Herrick famously put it this way:
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-ﬂ ying,
And this same ﬂ ower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.”
Amorous college students are fond of sharing this advice with girlfriends in hopes a little affection, and the poets certainly thought of that as well. But the poetic advice and the reality of human life is much broader.
None of us really knows what any day holds for us.
My friend did not know that she and I would never have our lunch together any more than I can be sure that I will arrive safely in Raleigh this week or that you will wake up next Tuesday. Life may be predictable most of the time, but it is ultimately unknowable.
Neither our bride nor our mother-to-be has asked my advice, but if they do I will remind them of the poet’s advice to enjoy and treasure each day as if it were their last, to love their family and friends as if they will not see them again, and to take care of themselves not only for themselves but for those who love, need and depend on them.
Life is indeed a gift.