Life is fragile and precious. Each day is a gift to be maximized and treasured, because it could be your last. We all know that, but we tend to forget it until some sobering reminder hits us unaware. Recently, we've taken several direct hits.
This past week the death of actress Natasha Richardson was front-page news worldwide. She was young, wealthy, beautiful and in perfect health. Yet a simple fall on a beginner's ski slope took her life. She was doing the right thing - taking lessons before braving the slopes on her own. But she did one wrong thing - she refused medical attention because she felt embarrassed. And it cost her her life.
Another reminder happened this week, right here in Avon Park. Beloved junior high teacher and children's books author Cindy Dwyer died suddenly of a massive stroke. She was only 58. Though not as young as Richardson, she was much too young to die of something we tend to think happens only to the elderly.
One minute Cindy Dwyer was at school doing her job, feeling fine, participating in a faculty meeting. The next she experienced a sudden excruciating headache. Minutes later she was rushed to Florida Hospital, but before she could be airlifted to Tampa, Cindy was gone.
Just two weeks ago, three strong and healthy young men, two of them pro football players, drowned while fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, just off Tampa Bay. They were having fun when the weather took a sudden turn, capsizing their boat.
My sister died of bone cancer when she was just 19. She was one of those people who seemed more alive than anyone because she was so talented. She was a gifted pianist and singer. She was a college art major who had already won awards for her work in drawing, painting, and calligraphy. One day she started having pain in her hip; soon she could barely walk. In six months she was gone.
Four years later my father, then just 45 and in excellent health, experienced a seizure. Doctors diagnosed the problem as everything from carbon monoxide poisoning to a recurrence of the malaria he'd suffered while stationed in the Philippines during World War II. Eventually, they found a brain tumor, but it was deep and inoperable. He died just four months later.
Almost all of us have, at one time or another, taken a hard bump on the head and refused medical attention, or had an unusual splitting headache, or gotten caught out in a sudden dangerous storm. We've had unexplained aches, pains, and dizziness. If we panicked every time something like that occurred, we'd soon be labeled Chicken Little or hypochondriac.
So what is the lesson here?
It's simple. No matter how young and healthy we are, life can be snatched away. So don't wait for someday, when things are different or you have more money or someone special comes to visit. Live your life, now. Whatever you know you should do - do it. Whatever you've been waiting to do - get started. Now.
Eat dinner on your best china tonight, even if it's only pizza. It will tell your family that they are the "someone special." Wear that fancy negligee you've been saving. What occasion could be more special than tonight, when you have no guarantee of tomorrow?
Tell those you love how much they mean to you, today. Don't ever let them leave home or go to bed with anger or bitterness between you. Take every opportunity to be kind and generous to loved ones and strangers alike. Even a long life is too short to waste one day of it being rude, thoughtless, or self-absorbed.
Most of all, before one more day goes by, we all need to decide what we believe about the life hereafter. Refusing to face it is a decision in itself. If you can't decide, get help. Ask a pastor, a teacher, a trusted friend, or two or three. Don't be a Scarlet O'Hara and say, "I'll think about that tomorrow."
Like Natasha Richardson, we may not have tomorrow.