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Right before Thanksgiving, my friends at Amarillo Magazine asked me to write an inspiring holiday piece for their December print edition. So I wrote a sort of maudlin piece about death. Merry Christmas! (It had been one of those months.)
Anyway, here it is in its entirety:
A couple of years ago, a friend alerted me to a blog post by Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of Wired magazine. Kelly had created a personal motivational device he called a “Life Countdown Clock,” based on his current age and life expectancy. It’s a digital badge that appears on his homepage and estimates how many days he has left to live. Every time he opens his browser, he’s greeted with a box that says, for example, “8500 days until dead.”
What a way to start the day.
Every morning, the number decreases: 8,499…8,498…8,497 days left. Kelly, who is in his late 50s, uses it as a reminder to make the most of every day. After all, those days are disappearing like clockwork.
Yes, it’s a morbid idea. And, no, I haven’t calculated how many days or years I have left. But I think about Kelly’s countdown on a regular basis. My time is a limited resource. It’s irreplaceable. I don’t dare waste it.
I’m writing this a few days before Thanksgiving. The holiday season is here, but it’s been a hard month–the kind that keeps reminding me how fleeting life can be.
Just days ago, my brother-in-law lost his grandfather to a sudden illness. One week they were enjoying their new apartment in San Francisco. The next week they were scrambling to buy last-minute flights to Philadelphia for the funeral.
My own grandfather was a World War II prisoner of war. In captivity in Nazi Germany, he escaped more brushes with death in a year than most people have in a lifetime. But for the last week, he’s been hospitalized with fever and double pneumonia. He once was stronger than anyone I knew. Today he’s so fragile.
Last weekend, a close family friend was in a terrifying car accident on the way home from Lake Greenbelt. He was alone. Something happened, and he rolled his vehicle. He’s been in intensive care ever since.
As the holidays near, I feel stress. I have a large extended family here in Amarillo, and so does my wife. We have family members coming to visit, too. We have meals to prepare and parties to plan and visits to schedule. We want to be together and, yes, we realize how good we have it. But we also know that the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s — the busyness, the activity, the pressure of meeting expectations — can be exhausting.
My temptation is to complain. I want to whine about how hectic and demanding Christmas can be. About the difficulties the season presents for families like ours, which require us to carve out time for so many activities. And then, when the grumbling reaches its peak, I’ll remember Chris, my brother-in-law, celebrating his first Christmas without “Papa Pipe.”
I’ll think of a dad, lying in a hospital bed, who missed his daughter’s concert. She sang while he fought to get better.
I’ll think of the families who are discovering that while Christmas used to bring joy and togetherness, now it only brings grief.
And I’ll remember that I’m being selfish.
Because I’m not the only one on the clock. I’m young. My countdown number is much higher. But my grandparents? My parents? They’re painfully aware of the countdown, too. They know that life is precious. And because of that, all they want is to spend these holidays — these holy days — with me. With my kids. With our whole big, chattering family.
At Christmas, your family may stress you out, but they can also help you cope. Your family may wear you out, but that’s a problem of closeness and proximity. Your family may push you toward self-inflicted solitude, but they’ll prevent you from being lonely.
It’s Christmas, Ebenezer. Give. Smile. Sing. Laugh. Cry. Take nothing for granted. Love your family, and let them love you. Seize the holiday. Carpe Christmas. Do it for yourself, and do it for them.