The Last Time

(Note: certain details have been changed to protect individual privacy, but the essential facts remain the same.)

I’m at an age when it sometimes occurs to me that this may be the last time. The gnome and I, if we’re lucky, will be nearly eighty when it’s time to repaint the house and well over a hundred when time comes to replace our new metal roof. As inveterate do-it-yourselfers, it’s encouraging to think, “Well, at least we’ll never have to do that again,” when it comes to big jobs like roofing and house painting. (Not because we’re planning on going anywhere but, at least if we have our wits about us, we won’t be climbing any extension ladders!) I think of these as the good last times.

But there are other last times, other milestones I’m not so eager to meet. I wonder about the last time I’ll be able to climb our stairs. Upstairs is where our bedroom and only bathroom are; it’s pretty important to be able to make that trek. What if the time comes, like it has for my mother and some aunts and uncles, when my body just won’t let me do that anymore?

What about the last time we’ll kiss goodnight, the last time we’ll make love. It’s coming. Chances are when the last time comes, we won’t recognize it.

The memory lingers of the morning I got a sickening call that the husband of a young neighbor had been murdered just moments before. She remembered their goodbye that morning. Nothing special, just a peck on the cheek. Like most other mornings. How could she have possibly imagined it was the last moment they’d share?

One day after a marathon lunch gathering of old friends now spread far and wide—those things do tend to go on and on—we stood around our cars in the parking lot saying our almost equally long goodbyes, oblivious to the fact that in just a few hours one of us would get a call that her husband had been killed in a car accident. Who would have anticipated that?

Then came the day when a close-knit group of colleagues came together for one of our regular quarterly meetings. The day one of us who had been plagued for months by an undetermined ailment told us she was feeling better. Even joked that at least she’d lost some weight. None of us expected it to be the last time we’d see her.

Every decision we make—or don’t make—could be a life-altering moment. Almost always, we never have a clue. We don’t know what would have happened if we’d left the house one second sooner or one second later, or if we’d decided to take one route over another one, or if we said no instead of yes (or yes instead of no). Of course, it serves no purpose to second guess ourselves, but it might be worthwhile to recognize and appreciate the sheer randomness of everyday moments and events.

So, I think about these things. Maybe it sounds morbid. Not all that many years ago, I’d have squirmed uncomfortably at such thoughts. These days, though, I’d like to be aware. Not to constantly worry or agonize but to put myself fully in the moment, to appreciate the here and now for all that it is. Because it’s just possible this may be the last time.

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