Life is learning to let go from the first to the final breath.
We are alive for such a brief moment. I can remember so vividly my bedtime ritual as a little girl- clinging to my mother’s hand begging her to stay with me until I drifted to sleep, craving her nearness and warmth. And the next thing I knew I was awake, it was morning, and I was alone….feeling sadness in her absence. Now only a few years later it seems, she is 82 with Alzheimer’s and doesn’t know who I am. Time is a funny thing.
I travel to Scotland every year to visit her. She returned in 2018 - a year before Alzheimer’s stole her memories. Scotland is in my bones because of her. Melancholy, longing and passion permeate Scottish history, music and poetry. In 1788, Robert Burns captured this ethos in Auld Lang Syne. I cry when the doleful melody plays at midnight. “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?” The lyrics urge listeners to cherish friendships, embrace the inevitability of change and let go of the old for the new. There’s something hopeful, frightening, and sad about letting go – of holding on loosely to life and marching toward the unknown. The yuletide song is a poignant reminder of the brevity of life, the fragility of health, the ebbing and flowing of friendships, the moments cherished and taken for granted, the wins and losses, the celebrations and disappointments. I am reminded to savor every moment, to embrace the vicissitudes of life and to reflect on the fleeting special moments that I didn’t realize at the time were going to be the last, and my total inability to slow the clock.
This is not a new struggle.
In the 90th Psalm, Moses’ cried out to God in the desert “Teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” Oh, to truly understand how little time we have! What different choices we might make if we really comprehended the brevity of life! Moses continues “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their spin is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” Oh, to make our days and hours count, for they are finite. One day I will breathe my last.
No one knows this better than a cancer patient.
They did not want or ask for it, but cancer patients receive the paradoxical gift of understanding the brevity of life. Their diagnoses force them to number their days and to grow in wisdom - allowing valuable course corrections while there is still sand in the hourglass. Scrooge, in A Christmas Carol, is given the same painful gift of seeing the grim reality of the future if he remains the same man. A cancer diagnosis is a similar kind of eye opener - shocking, painful, and motivating; it changes you. A cancer diagnosis is a ghost of Christmas future in a way - A painful yet precious second chance to reevaluate, to mend, to forgive, to re-prioritize, to slow down, to cherish, to love and, yes, to let go.
New Year: new opportunities to let go and live!
Every New Year’s Eve I am reminded to number my days. To count my blessings. To remember that my heart will one day beat its last. To remember friends and family, cherish them and then let go so I can make room for whatever the future holds. As the clock counts down the last minutes of the year, I remember the warmth of my mother’s love before it was taken from her, my halcyon days of youth in Scotland, my wins and losses, successes and failures, friends kept and friends lost… but, especially I remember my clients living with cancer who taught me about the courage to face their mortality, to enjoy each day as if it were the last, to let go of resentment, bitterness, and regret and to make impactful changes for a better today and tomorrow. No one knows more about the brevity of life than they do. They often find the courage and motivation to live a whole different life than they did before cancer. Knowing our days are numbered can do that for us all. Nothing like New Year’s Eve to give us that reminder - to let go and live! These thoughts fill my grateful heart as I sing along and toast my pals with bitter sweet tears in my eyes…”For auld lang syne, my jo, for auld lang syne, we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”