How many “next times” do we have?

When I was young, the world seemed endless. Youth gives you a type of serenity knowing there was always “next time” (another Spring Break, another football game, or another Christmas to celebrate). When an event was cancelled there was inevitably a degree of disappointment. Some items (the chance to see a favorite band in concert) might never roll around again, but for the most part there was always another opportunity lurking out there.

With each passing year, the number of options decreases, albeit slowly. Like the crab in a pot of gradually warming water, we are unaware of the changes until one day we wake up and find we are well on our way to being “done” (literally) and the events forgone have been lost to time. What is left can now be counted, not in ethereal terms (some vague large number), but in a concrete value. It is a quantity that is real, like a NASA launch counting down until there is no more (5, 4, 3, 2…). In our case, “liftoff” is an end not a beginning (at least of our earthly travels). We all know that “zero” is somewhere out there, even if we can’t really fathom when it will arrive.

This idea has come home to roost in this strange year. Meetings and events have gone virtual. In that respect, I guess they have not “disappeared.” However, there has been a distinct lack of personal interaction. It seems as if life has been put on hold, at least our activities have been put on pause.

While this may be true of our schedules, life itself goes on. The biological clock of our being just keeps on ticking regardless of how we choose to live it. We may have forgone activities during the pandemic, but our bodies have added another year to the tally. As Pink Floyd so starkly put It in their classic song Time, “The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older; Shorter of breath; one step closer to death.”

So, Dave, why the melancholy musings?

I try not to dwell on my own mortality, but I do recognize the fixed nature of life and tonight is an accounting: New Year’s Eve, an old year expires (although we may be happy to finally ditch 2020) and another begins. It is a reminder that I am in my mid-sixties and can now begin to quantify the future events of my life.

My father died at age 72. If I follow that trajectory, I have but eight short years left (which I fervently hope I will exceed). I have been able to see my kids 2 or 3 times a year (under those terms perhaps another 20 or so more times). This past year several get togethers were cancelled; that is about ten percent of the time I would have with them. Even if I double or triple the years left, one lost gathering is still several percent of the remaining time…a sobering thought.

Would we live our lives differently if we knew the “end date?” Most of us probably would. We would make time for people that matter in our lives. The touch of a loved one or a simple embrace is worth more than we can fathom. Even if we cannot be with them, we can do things to let them know what they mean to us. Don’t leave things unsaid.

As reality sets in, I must acknowledge that there won’t always be another “next time.” That means that “this time” is precious, not to be squandered lightly. Even if you believe that you have a plethora of “next times,” the ones you care about may not.

Tomorrow is not just the first day of the New Year, it is one of a finite number of days that will account for the rest of your life. Live it that way and rejoice in the time that God has given us and be thankful.

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