Have Your Really Lived?

In perfect timing for a Memorial Day tribute, I found my Dad’s passport yesterday. It was in a box of dusty memories, stuffed full of little index cards that he’d kept, which had motivational quotes on them. The quotes were all about living your life fully, and, my favorite… “It’s never safe to look into the future with eyes of fear”.

The index card quotes tucked in the passport were worn and aged, as if someone had caressed them daily. As if the quotes were the fuel and the inspiration to fill the passport …someday. The passport though…it was crisp, clean, impersonal. Empty. As if it had just been issued by some cold government agency. It was full of dreams yet to come… you know… the somedays, the maybes….the “when I have more time”.

My Dad, “Billy”, died in 2004, at the half lived age of 55. He talked his entire life about the travels he’d take, the fun things he wanted to do… the metaphorical and literal filling of the passport. He was the one who inspired me to travel the world. But when he was 55, he was diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. It was all over his body by the time he was diagnosed. The only chance he had of surviving was pure will and stubbornness….and the dream that he would fill up that lonely passport with some stamps. He just wanted a little more time to do what hadn’t been done yet.

Of course, by that time, he wasn’t going anywhere. Half of his body was weakened from brain tumors. The doctors gave him about six weeks to live when he was first diagnosed. But something like this, something like cancer, this doesn’t stop someone like my Dad. He had this amazing tenacity and optimism. It prevented him from him hearing and accepting the doctor’s death sentence. I was fearing the worst and it was like he was just confused, like he didn’t get what he’d just been told. It was like he was ready to go on a trip somewhere. He wanted to be dating, and run his many businesses, and ski and country dance. He had a will to deny bad news and survive like nothing I’ve ever seen. He was a visionary. A master at creating, taking risks, and playing. He still had his life force keeping him strong. And instead of surviving another six weeks, he lived through six months.

We felt lucky to have that extra time with him in our lives, but it was a bittersweet experience to watch him struggle with defeat. He slowly came to terms with the fact that he hadn’t filled the passport… literally and metaphorically. He had a realization that life had slipped through his hands before he had time to do the “somedays”, the “maybes”, and the “when I have time”. He spent a lot of time working and creating great businesses, but he lacked balance. He felt regret that he didn’t do the things that really mattered in the end. He didn’t do enough of those things that filled his heart and soul.

I share this story not to make you sad. I share it because I have the voice of my Dad, in my head, saying “LIVE NOW”. And I know he would want me to shout it to the world. So, in honor of my Dad, I give this advice today:

Stop working so much. Play more. Laugh more. Leave that passionless job. Leave that painful relationship. Do that thing that’s been calling you all your life. Do what scares you the most. Open your heart and take a chance on love. Play with your kids. Play hookie for a day. Or a week. Do those things that will make you feel grateful and fulfilled at the end of your life. Fill your passport. Fill your heart. If today was your last day, what would you regret?

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