Catch The Sand

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

James 4:13-17

Maybe it’s because others didn’t face it every day. Tomorrow was a given and plans for the future came without that nagging question of whether they’d still be there when the time came. For many, life had a certainty that hadn’t been lost yet. Kind of like a teenager in love before her heart was broken for the first time.

In the beginning, I didn’t know what to make of this virus. This stuff happened in other countries, not here. Then the kids came home from school in March and never went back. Sobbing nurses and refrigerated-trucks-now-morgues were all over my social media feed. People were dying and the world shut down.

For a little while, people came together. Helped each other. People enjoyed time with their loved ones. They went back to basics – played board games, worked puzzles, dusted off Grandma’s recipes, and made home-cooked meals. The world woke up and remembered what was important. Those hectic schedules, the long commutes, were they worth it? Our eyes opened to changes a long time coming.

The months wore on and patience wore out. People were anxious to return to normal, the same normal reconsidered weeks earlier. People had so many opinions. After months in quarantine and as things seemed to improve, I put on my mask to go to the grocery store, but still avoided crowds and other public places. I took the kids to parks and outdoor areas for picnics and hiking and fun. We had a great time and made the best of a bad situation. We handled it well. As it often was, it was all about perspective.

Still, something stirred inside of me. I was frustrated, sad, scared, and overwhelmed all at once. I couldn’t put my finger on what I was feeling, but the other day after learning some sad news about a friend, I figured it out. It wasn’t the virus or the back-to-school decisions that bothered me so much. Those were only symptoms of the greater affliction – a taking for granted, a prideful certainty about life.

Yeah, I didn’t have that anymore.

Every morning was a gift, another day to spend with my loved ones. I lived each day to the fullest, but I was a ticking time bomb, waiting for cancer to light the match, explode inside of me, and snuff me out. I was doing well today but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t wake up tomorrow with a new symptom, a sign cancer might have returned.

I took meds that made me hurt and made me feel sick. I went to the lab and turned my head as needles dug into my flesh. I saw my oncologist (and my future) at the cancer center. I lay down on hard tables during scans and prayed for one more three-month exhale. Please God, don’t let this be that scan.

I wanted more time, and I would do anything to get it.

I had been on the wrong side of statistics a few times, once when diagnosed with terminal cancer. Although I second-guessed myself, there was nothing more I could have done after my first diagnosis to prevent a recurrence. I did it all — chemo, surgery, radiation, medication. It still came back. Now, in this uncertain world, if I could do something to stay on the right side of statistics, I would do it in a heartbeat. Health and safety came first, above all else.

I saw women die every day from metastatic breast cancer. Not just strangers, but friends I shared my deepest feelings with because they were going through the same thing. Friends and family didn’t understand. Sometimes, they didn’t want to. It was easier to ignore the elephant in the room. I got it, but I didn’t have that luxury. That elephant often sat upon my chest. It was hard losing friends to the same disease, but somehow I had grown used to it. A constant pain like the pain deep in my bones where cancer grew. The loss sat on my chest like that elephant. The last conversations I had with those friends were forever ingrained in my memory.

“I was folding laundry today. My kids are old enough to do it, but they never fold it the way I like. I put every ounce of love into that laundry. It was an act of service. I don’t have much time left on this earth, but this is something I can do, and I was happy to do it.”

Jeannette was a friend who had metastatic breast cancer. She had just signed herself up for hospice. This was her first day at home from the hospital after that decision. I checked in on her and we chatted for a bit. She spent the day praying and doing her son’s laundry. She died the following week. One day she was doing laundry, grateful for the opportunity, and then she was gone. When I started to complain about doing laundry, I caught myself. I never looked at the laundry the same again. It was an honor and a privilege.

“I just want to be here to watch my daughter grow up. She is only six. She is my world, and I am hers. I don’t know how she will handle losing me, growing up without me. I would like to see her grow even a few years older so I can better explain. So she will understand. So she will remember me.”

Deena was a friend who died of metastatic breast cancer too – a few months, not a few years, later after this conversation. I prayed for her young daughter every night.

“I’m feeling better these days. I think this clinical trial might be working. I even made a bucket list of things I want to do now that it looks like I might get more time.”

Debbie died a month later. She never got to check anything off that bucket list. Things were going well until they weren’t, as is often the case with cancer.

“I am going home to get some things done around the house tomorrow and I will be back the next day. You rest and enjoy your visit tomorrow with Aunt Barb. I’ll check in tomorrow evening.”

That was the last thing I said to my Dad. I wanted him to rest and visit the next day while I caught up on things at home after spending two weeks traveling back and forth while Dad was in the hospital. I never got a chance to talk to him again. He died the next night.

Life slipped through our fingers like sand.

Dad, Jeannette, Deena, Debbie, Crystal, Melanie, Terri, Ellen, Angelina, Cathy, Erin, Roberta, Jennifer, Kim, Laura, Suellen, Pamela, … so many more.

Life was sometimes raising our arms to wrap someone in a big hug and find no one there. Just air.

Our friend Jason bought us a beautiful glass vase etched with daisies from our bridal registry. I loved that vase. I kept fresh flowers in it on my morning room table. The other night, Kade knocked it over. Water spilled and flowers lost petals, but the vase didn’t break. I was relieved. It was a material item, but I would have been sad if it had broken. There one minute, catching the sunlight. Gone the next. Like life. I could have kept the vase in the cabinet protected on the shelf behind the heavy glass door. I preferred to display it on the table so I could enjoy it. There was a risk leaving it out, but I was willing to take that risk. With a vase.

People didn’t seem to understand how fragile life was. How little time they had. All my friends, the ones who were gone, they didn’t want fancy vacations, or bigger homes, or new cars. They wanted more time. I did too.

People wasted time on things that didn’t matter. They missed the good stuff. The sunset, the morning breeze, the company of family and friends. They were too busy. What happened to the valuable lessons during quarantine? All seemed forgotten.

People didn’t focus on the simple things that made them happy and made life fun. They pointed out problems and complained. They competed for an imaginary title. Whoever screamed the loudest, won. Won what?

People jumped back into their old routines. They filled the squares on their calendars, the quiet of their mornings, and the downtime of their evenings. They didn’t do the things that made their souls happy. They didn’t make time for people they loved.

That sad news I heard about a friend the other day? She wasn’t doing well. She was worried about her family, and her heart was broken. Mine was too.

Her time was slipping through her fingers. Fast.

But you? You still had time.

Put your arms around your people, and hold on tight.

Then, close your fingers and catch your sand.

Before it’s gone.

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