“Do your work as though you had a thousand years to live, and as if you were to die tomorrow.”
Mother Ann Lee of the Shakers.
They say that the first hour is most critical. If you get to the hospital during the first hour of a heart attack your chances are much better. Of those who make that trip to emergency, one third die without reaching the hospital, one third die after reaching the hospital, and one third make it.
By chance and not by design, I am of the lucky one third and the question is what to do with all this luck. Given that I should have been dead on January 2, 2022 I have some stuff to think about that has to do with that big list everyone has tucked away… the bucket list.
You may not think of the list directly but it is implicit in the pace by which people take on the day. Some run past me. They are the efficient ones who will likely go home and strike “exercise” off their list. Others stroll hand in hand. Some earnestly walk with arms swinging so that there is no mistake they mean business, no camaraderie needed. And then there are the benches, the pause between the notes. The benches invite you to sit down. They are courtesy of the dead and you are reminded by the particular plaque affixed to the seat, whose life the bench is dedicated to.
Unless you have the sensibility of a stone, you can’t sit on the bench and NOT reflect. After all, the person sponsoring your leisure is not here to enjoy the day you are enjoying. They no longer have that luxury, and yet here you are, deserving or not. The burden can sit heavy on a heart attack survivor.
I actually sat down and compiled a bucket list after my heart attack. It was a bit of panicked inventory for all the stuff I might have missed that now I get to chip away at. But time can be a problem. In any given day there has to be some time for yourself, some time for others, some time spent getting practical stuff dealt with, and some time for enjoyment. I would class the bucket list stuff outside of all these because the bucket list never seems to fit into any of those particular time slots and that is why it is often left begging.
Some of the stuff is hard to justify. There is the guitar my daughter stepped on, that I want to fix on some rainy day. I would have to partially dissemble it and rebuild the top. I have knocked away at parts of that job, and failed. That’s frustrating. The first replacement top I built warped and cracked due to seasonal humidity in the basement, but (luckily) before I had a chance to glue it to the guitar. If time is an issue, redo’s and setbacks will make you weep. The guitar top is like a lot of my life, things I failed at or did badly that I sure would like to correct. Still have to get to that guitar top. Check. I want when I’m dead that someone says “Wow. He fixed that guitar himself and remade that top. Look at that, eh?”
There are also some dumb things like I want to paint another icon or two, enough to do it properly. I also would really like to nail the guitar arrangements for Hotel California and Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman. The problem is that all of these things take time and if you don’t give them the time they need, you won’t get them done. You need to either fumble through on your own, or have a teacher. Much of my life has been spent fumbling through and fumbling also takes time.
The real problem is much of my life has had that TO DO list jammed in between all the other things, in a bit of a frenzy. It has been partially chipped away at, and yet never really done properly. I seem to be the dilettante dabbler whose wish list is actually larger than life. Add to this, the separate “TO DO” list my wife also has in mind for the day, and my own things may not get done. This is what the park bench reminds me of. It’s an Uh Oh kind of moment that I still have not managed to solve.
I also have to dedicate part of my day to cardio exercise, and some time to resistance training. It’s the thing that might easily fall off the list unless you lean in to enjoy it. I’ve learned to set up my own routine and to put together a play list of songs I like that moves through the various exercises. The music is as good for the heart as the exercise is. That’s my excuse to crank it even if others might be sleeping. I sing along defiantly with “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold This Body Down.” I particularly rock the weights through “Money for Nothing and your Chicks for Free...” even though I know the writer was suffering from a bit of wishful thinking.
I am also trying to grasp the meaning of things I should be old enough to know. There is the story about Mary and Martha, where Martha the efficient one was scolded. Her sister Mary, who took some time out of the party to sit and reflect, got the kudos. Jesus noted that Mary had done the one thing that was needed.
The one thing needed, for this hour and on this day. Only one? Usually I have found that there are two things, and one won’t get done. Then there is the needed time to enjoy. That’s a high bar for anyone with a sense of time and its passing. A day goes all too quickly and often you don’t feel like you got enough work done, or had enough fun along the way. There should be some time for joy. Time can be a cruel taskmaster, and giving each particular moment what it needs is tough. I am reminded of that song, “Right Now is the Needed Time”. Written by someone with or without a sense of urgency, I can’t decide. There’s time for everything right?
Well, not really. The bench reminds me.