Thursday, October 4, 2012
If You Knew
If you knew that you probably wouldn't be here next week, next month, or next year, would you do things differently?
Would you slow down and spend more time talking and just hanging out with the ones you love, would you rush around trying to pack in everything you could into the time you had left, or would you jet off to some remote location and sip cool drinks on a sunny beach somewhere? Would you leave your work behind, choosing to treat each day as a vacation, or would you double-time it in an effort to finish what you'd started, in hopes of clearing your desk?
I think sometimes people go through life just trying to get through the daily grind, setting a goal each day just to make it to 5:00 and hoping to build up enough vacation days to take some time off a few times a year. It's a easy pattern to get into, for sure. That wasn't my dad at all, though. He regularly set goals for lots of things. He liked quotes that inspired action, like "A goal without a plan is just a wish" and "To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe" and of course his favorite, "JUST DO IT!" In essence, he was a roller-coaster guy, not a merry-go-round guy:
"I like the roller coaster; you get more out of it!"
Through my dad, I learned while growing up to believe that anything was possible through hard work and perseverance. And, for the most part, I feel like that held true in my life, up until the time he got sick.
But I have to say that, had he known his days were numbered before that awful day two years ago this month when he was taken to the hospital by ambulance and the trial of our lives began, I don't believe he would have done many things differently.
For all the questions and the if-then deliberations in my mind from over the last few months of Dad's life, there is one thing of which I am absolutely certain: if life is measured by adventure, my dad had a full one.
Throughout his life, my dad identified things in himself that he wanted to change and then he made those changes. In fact, thinking back to one of those things from when I was a teenager makes me smile even today:
About the time I turned 15, my dad told me that he had read somewhere that research had shown that a teenaged girl whose father told her at least once a day that he loved her was much more likely to graduate in the top of her class and to be happy long-term in life. He said he knew that my sisters and I knew that he loved us but that he wasn't sure of exactly how often he told us out loud that he did, and so, just in case (another favorite expression of his), he was going to set a goal to say it to us every day at least until the time we graduated from high school. ("I'll still say it to you after that, but you'll be away at college so it may not be quite as often," he said to further explain his plan.) He didn't go into detail as to how he was going to be sure that he remembered to say it, but I knew him well enough to know that he would have some sort of system. And sure enough, the next time I got into his car, I saw what it was: he had placed a sticky note on the dashboard of his car, and on it he had written "Tell the girls I love them." Apparently the system worked, because, as far as I can remember, he told us that every day until we left home and every time he talked to us after that.
The last email I ever got from my dad was about planning for new adventures as he looked ahead to what he was going to do after he had completed the Ironman triathlon in which he was scheduled to compete but didn't get to. Here's what he wrote in his typical stream-of-consciousness type of email:
From: Bill Bullard <email@example.com]]]]>
Sent: Wed, September 29, 2010 2:38:15 PM
Subject: Iron man
This will probably jinks it, but my foot is much better. I have 4 training wks to go--- Plan is to do three long runs (app3 hrs), 3 long bikes (80-100 miles and three long swims of about 2 miles each. In between stuff doesn’t matter much, I am told. If I can do these I should be fine, although walking will be part of the Plan which it is for most anyone not really competing. Nice to do around 14 hrs but just to finish is okay. Need to find a tattoo place in Calif to get Ironman logo on my calf. Lee gets one next yrr
Love ur crazy//Dad
told mom this would be the only one. Got to think of a new adventure—but no heights or extreme cold.
Thinking about the way that my dad lived his life, I see clearly that he didn't need a terminal prognosis to define his priorities or his goals. He never sat it out, he always gave it his all, and he enjoyed every day of his life. And if adversity is the test by which character is revealed, then I'm proud to say that my dad passed the test with flying colors.