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Make haste, O man, to live

My husband and I had met with the accountant days before. When she called to say our tax return was ready, I offered to pick it up.

Walking down the hall to her office, I noticed her door was open.

“Oh, good,” I thought, “she doesn’t have a client with her. I’ll be able to get in, get out, and be on my way in just a few minutes.”

As I got closer to the door, though, I heard voices. There was a man and a woman in the office with her.

Disappointed, I sat down in a chair immediately outside the door to wait my turn — but not before I stood in the doorway for just a second, to make sure that all three people in the office knew I was there.

“Maybe if they know I’m out here waiting, they’ll hurry,” I reasoned. I had places to go, things to do and people to see.

I got busy making notes about all the other errands I had to run that day. Occasionally, I was distracted by the visiting woman’s high, tinkling laugh and the man’s deep, mellow voice.

“They seem to complement each other,” I thought. “He seems calm, level-headed. She sounds lively, joyful, at ease.”

After I finished my notes, I started thumbing through a magazine about estate planning — certainly not what I wanted to read and think about on my busy day. I tossed that aside and impatiently wondered if I should leave and take my chances later.

Then, as if I had just really tuned in, I heard what the couple was discussing with the accountant. They had spent the last month in Mexico for an unorthodox treatment of the woman’s rapidly progressing cancer. Traditional measures had so far proved useless against the invading horde in her body.

“That woman has a terminal illness,” I marveled. “She sounds like someone who has the world by the tail, not someone who may leave it soon!”

Now my interest was piqued and I strained to listen, willing my hearing sense to go around that doorway and into that room so that I would not miss a word.

“You don’t know how to live until you’re dying,” the woman cheerfully continued. “This has been the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

What? How could she say that? She sounded almost excited that she carried around in her body something that was trying to kill her. Had the cancer affected her mind as well?

Then the man joined in the conversation. Together they explained how much their priorities had changed. No longer did they see money as a gauge of success, but as a means to enable them to fight for life and to share life with their loved ones. No longer did they live every day like there were many more to follow or put off until tomorrow what they could and should do today.

A scripture popped into my head — Psalm 90, verse 12 — “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Quickly on the heels of that came the lines of a hymn, “Make haste, O man, to live, for thou so soon must die; time hurries past thee like the breeze, how swift its moments fly!”

That woman and I never met; I never even saw her face. She could not know then how she affected a stranger.

I do things to keep a pleasant home, I exercise, read, write letters. I nap. I pray.

But so often in the back of my mind as I do these things, there is a nagging sensation — a still, small voice perhaps?

“Is this the best use of your time?”

“What would you most regret leaving undone?”

In reality, we are all “dying,” as in getting closer to our demise every day; perhaps we haven’t had a medical professional tell us so; haven’t received the news to make us focus and prioritize.

The not-worth-a-row-of-pins minutiae of daily life can slowly but surely ease out, to the point of eliminating entirely, the vital, extraordinary and priceless pursuit of living as God and Jesus would have us live, every day, for them, with them, through them.

I have no way of knowing if the treatment in Mexico cured the woman, postponed the inevitable for some brief time or was to no avail. She never mentioned God or Jesus, at least not in my hearing. Whether her attitude was influenced by her belief and trust in them or whether she was just a rational, thoughtful person who had come to accept her fate and was determined to handle it with dignity, who knows?

May God allow the musings of a fellow pilgrim to so affect you — to “number your days aright...to gain wisdom....to make haste to live.” To have no reason to regret.

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