We were a gathering of old friends, sharing stories and not-so-clear memories of high school days. I had temporary flashbacks of earlier times when we all sat around small tables in the local burger joint. Then, we were bold and brazen, willing to take on the world, bragging about how many girls we knew had a crush on us.
Lies, all lies. But who would challenge us on the truth?
This time things were different. I learned that evening that time doesn't fly, it zips by at the speed of light and suddenly comes to a halt when you see old friends.
There was enough bragging and ego to go around the table, but then, as if sitting in a confessional, the truth began pouring out.
Maybe it was my fault. I love asking questions. I have to admit I am good at doing interviews--I am a good listener and I really care about people. "Okay, now that we've talked about all the stuff we wanted each other to know, let's talk reality," I said. "How has life really been?"
Maybe we were all at that point in life where we needed to accept we were not infallible. Once one started, everyone shared stories of jobs lost and opportunities missed. But one friend really opened up.
"I had it good. I mean I was living like a king," he said. "Then I got stupid."
"Why do you feel that way?" I asked.
"I had choices to make, and I made the wrong ones," he replied.
"What choices, Frank?"
"Marriage, friends...you name it. I turned my back on it all for money."
"What did you learn?" I asked.
He paused for a moment and then looked at me. "I learned that I needed them more than they needed me."
"They always needed you, Frank. Family, friends need each other to exist."
"Me and my money. Now I have little of that after the stock market plunge," he said ruefully.
"The great thing about growing older is the ability to right the wrong and see things more clearly," I said.
"Sure, just after your eyes go and your memory fades. You can't see as well and you forget what you did wrong anyway!" one friend said, laughing.
Then I asked the big question of everyone sitting there. "What do you want now?"
Some grumbled, laughed, and moaned. I heard the typical responses, like good health, long life, to hit the lottery, and happiness for their children.
Then, much to the surprise of everyone there, one friend put it all in perspective. As everyone was laughing and poking fun at each other's responses, one friend quietly whispered something.
"What? I'm sorry, Jim, what did you say?"
He had been sitting quietly in the corner. Although he smiled and laughed once in a while, I noticed that he really wasn't participating. I directed my questions to him a few times but didn't try to drag him into the conversation. Everyone was speaking over him.
"Wait a minute! Jim wants to share his dream," I said. "Go ahead, Jim, what was it?"
He slowly sat up, adjusted his baseball cap, and after nervously playing with his napkin he said, “To be one day older."
Silence. What did that mean? "Why one day older?" I asked.
"I'm dying. When I wake up I win. I have nothing more I want out of life than to be one day older. Then another."
We all fumbled around, uncomfortable with the thought. We had gathered together to catch up with all of our accomplishments. We came together to see how the others were doing. We wanted to walk away from this day feeling that we each did alright in life. No one wanted winners and losers. We cared about each other. No one wanted to know the worst had happened to anyone.
But one of us now measures his life one day at a time.
Set aside all the big dreams you have. Put down all the charts and graphs of your accomplishments. Shelve all the hopes and plans for retirement. Imagine, then, that all you wanted out of life was to be one day older.
Not to be the CEO, not the trophy winner, not the best of. One day older. It's the one thing that doesn't come with a guarantee.
Imagine if the one and only thing you focused on was to be one day older. A sunrise would be like finding gold. The sounds of birds outside your window would be a symphony. How powerful! How perfect!
How grateful you would be and how joy-filled would be your day, if all you ever wanted was something everyone else took for granted.
To be one day older.