Just ten years ago, I sat across the desk from a doctor with a stethoscope. “Yes,” he said, “there is a lesion in the left, upper lobe. You have a moderately advanced case…” I listened, stunned, as he continued, “You’ll have to give up work at once and go to bed. Later on, we’ll see.” He gave me no assurances.
Feeling like a man who in mid-career has suddenly been placed under sentence of death with an indefinite reprieve, I left the doctor’s office, walked over to the park, and sat down on a bench, perhaps, as I then told myself, for the last time. I needed to think. In the next three days, I cleared up my affairs; then I went home, got into bed, and set my watch to tick off not the minutes, but the months. two and a half years and many dashed hopes later, I left my bed and began the long climb back. It was another year before I made it.
I speak to this experience because these years that past so slowly taught me what to value and what to believe. They said to me: Take time, before time takes you. I realize now that this world I’m living in is not my oyster to be opened but my opportunity to be grasped. Each day, to me, is a precious entity. The sun comes up and presents me with 24 brand new, wonderful hours—not to pass, but to fill.
I’ve learned to appreciate those little, all-important things I never thought I had the time to notice before: the play of light on running water, the music of the wind in my favorite pine tree. I seem now to see and hear and feel with some of the recovered freshness of childhood. How well, for instance, I recall the touch of the springy earth under my feet the day I first stepped upon it after the years in bed. It was almost more than I could bear. It was like regaining one’s citizenship in a world one had nearly lost.
Frequently, I sit back and say to myself, Let me make note of this moment I’m living right now, because in it I’m well, happy, hard at work doing what I like best to do. It won’t always be like this, so while it is I’ll make the most of it—and afterwards, I remember—and be grateful. All this, I owe to that long time spent on the sidelines of life. Wiser people come to this awareness without having to acquire it the hard way. But I wasn’t wise enough. I’m wiser now, a little, and happier.
“Look thy last on all things lovely, every hour.” With these words, Walter de la Mare sums up for me my philosophy and my belief. God made this world—in spite of what man now and then tries to do to unmake it—a dwelling place of beauty and wonder, and He filled it with more goodness than most of us suspect. And so I say to myself, Should I not pretty often take time to absorb the beauty and the wonder, to contribute a least a little to the goodness? And should I not then, in my heart, give thanks? Truly, I do. This I believe.