This week, I have been thinking a lot about a story a friend told me while we were hiking in the mountains just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Janet told me about a friend of hers that had purchased a dress that she really wanted, but Janet had never seen her wear it. Her friend explained that she was just waiting for the right event and right venue… the perfect time and opportunity. Then Janet asked her, “You love this dress, right? And you’ve had it for a long time, without ever wearing it? What are you waiting for?”
In 1994, my 16 year old son fell ill with a terrible infection of bacterial endocarditis, which went improperly diagnosed for a couple of months. Then, on March 24th, at 2:15 in the morning, after several hospital stays, much treatment, and terrible fear on his part and ours, we heard him cry out. His life and ours were suddenly, in a moment, changed, never to return to as they were before. We all cared for, and grieved for him as best we could, with an unskillful process that damaged our family even more.
I taught for another three and a half years, then could no longer handle the emotional trauma I suffered, and left teaching. My daughter carried on as best as she could through the rest of high school and two years of college. My wife and I divorced. She became our son’s primary care giver and advocate, and did the very best that she could. The hard and indisputable fact that life is short and fragile never was clearer to us than in those those years and the ones that followed.
My son taught me many lessons… one was that we must live our lives honestly and genuinely in the time that we have. We mustn’t wait to address how we are living our brief and human lives. I’d lived how I felt the world wanted me to for 47 years. It wasn’t genuine..nor honest…nor who I knew I was.
What was I waiting for?
So, my daughter and I climbed aboard our sailboat in the summer of 1998 and fulfilled a dream, sailing from Ohio to Key West over a period of nine months. We both felt that the only way to move forward was to change everything that we were doing. We took care of our vessel and each other and tried our best to figure it all out. I came out to the world (and myself) and started a new life… a truly fulfilling one. She became a strong, independent and compassionate woman. Journeys will do that to you. And our family grew back together as best it could. The lessons from my son continue to this day.
There have been many other landmarks in time over the last 25 years…some wonderful, others tragic. Each time, however, the lesson is presented and the question begs to be answered again and again.
“What are you waiting for?”
We have one, precious human life that we are assured. But that life could end today, tomorrow or in many years. It is temporary and fleeting. We don’t know where the journey will take us, or with whom,. But journey, we must, moment by moment, adventure by adventure, lesson by lesson. Do so as a genuine traveler. Work hard on gaining more compassion and love for your fellow journeyers.
Janet repeated the line to end her story on that hike, with a pointed glance and a little shake of her head at me.
“What are you waiting for?”
Get out of the house…