Many of us live lives of such constant hesitation – of a determined drive to keep things as they are, no matter how undesirable they may be. We revel in the comfort and security of our everyday inconsequence and we will go to great pains to maintain the depressing status quo of our existence because we believe that it is better to be with the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
But in being with the devils we know we suffer all the same. We suffer through terrible relationships we shouldn’t be in but are scared to leave. We suffer at jobs we hate, but think we can not quit. We suffer with people and places and activities that drain us of every ounce of our will to live and fill us with such a deep, aching regret that it threatens to consume us whole.
I have a few regrets myself in life, but there are none so great as the one I hold towards the dying days of my uncle, and there is none that did so much for me in erasing the possibility of future regrets.
In those last months and weeks, as ALS ravaged my uncle’s body and left him broken and bed ridden, I turned my life away from him and towards my plodding, mediocre, comfortable existence, because I didn’t want to face the reality of the situation and the necessity of loss and change that it would bring. I wanted to ignore his passing because I was scared of what it meant for me and my future. It was selfish. It was exhausting. It was a terrible place I let myself be in.
But one day, waking from a fevered, haunting dream, I decided I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I couldn’t look away from him or the pain I had felt and I stopped making excuses, and something carried me to my car, to the hospital, to his room, and to his bed.
The room was shaded in darkness, a thin, rectangle halo of light bled in around the pulled shades, giving just enough light to make out the faded silhouette of my uncle in bed. Machines blinked and chirped and clipped and sighed – keeping him alive but stealing his living.
His head was turned towards the window and I did not know if he was awake or asleep. There was a silence in the room that only grows when sleeping, distant things are near. I knew he couldn’t turn his head – he couldn’t move at all – so I walked around the bed and I saw his open eyes reflecting the glow of the window light. They were wide and blue and full of the pain that must exist in the sky when it knows that dark, deadening storms will soon be rolling in to steal away it’s color.
And a wave of storms did hit, with a sudden furiousness, as we met eye to eye. Tears and then sobs and then racking spasms of coughing and crying rolled over him and spread to me. I sank deep into the chair by his bed, suddenly feeling the weight of months of sadness and pain, and we cried together.
We cried as the nurse hurried in to stick a suction hose down his throat to clear away the spit and snot that threatened to choke him. We cried as I reached a hand to touch the sunken leather of his skin that was nothing more than the outline of bone. We cried until we couldn’t, the storm slowly subsiding, and we were left alone together with our grief.
My uncle could not speak at this point. Our only mode of communication was a computer that read his eye movements and had a habit of not working. It worked today, if barely, and his eyes shifted feverishly for words that he wanted to say to me. I could see the frustration in them as he couldn’t quite get what he wanted on the screen and he struggled to hold back another storm of tears.
It was after many minutes that he gave up any attempt at eloquence and a mechanical voice came through the speakers of the computer with 3 simple words, “Why not sooner?”
I felt these words strike me. Like a hand to the face. A bullet through my heart. Like an arrow launched and pierced, true and full through my very soul.
And I knew exactly what he meant. Why hadn’t I come sooner? Why hadn’t I come when he had at least a bit of life and dignity left in him, however fleeting and weak. Why hadn’t I come sooner to say my goodbye in a proper fashion? Why hadn’t I come sooner when he was not physically lost to the world, so I might still feel some of the strength he had given me for some many years?
And despite how much it hurt to hear it, he was right and the words bounced through my head, unstoppable in their echoing. Why hadn’t I come sooner, before he had already gone?
I let the gravity of those words sink them deep into me as I sat with him. I promised him that everything was going to be ok. That I was going to take care of everyone while he was gone and that he didn’t need to hold on any longer. I left through another tearful goodbye, as he was overcome by racking coughs that had the nurses trying to calm him down and had them ushering me out of the room.
And as I walked away from that hospital, fresh tears stinging my eyes, I took his words – those three lonely, sad words that were the last I would ever have from him – and I decided that I would never like to hear them again from anyone or anything.
My uncle died a few days after that visit. Something in me wants to believe that he was waiting for me to come, waiting to impart one final bit of wisdom on me before he left me alone to try to be the man that he was. And that small something in me became the enormous everything in me and I never forgot those last words he gave to me and how it changed my life.
Why not sooner?
What are you putting off today that you wish you started yesterday? What endeavor could you start, right now, right here, that will change your tomorrow? Why are you waiting to pursue a dream that you desperately want to be true? Yes, it will be hard. Yes, it will be scary. Yes, you may fail. But you will never have to stare down at a growing sea of regrets that threaten to drown you where you stand. Start now. Fail now.
Why not sooner?
What love or happiness are you denying yourself right now because of your fear, your ignorance, your reluctance or your pain? Why are you waiting to reach out to someone? To say sorry. To say thank you. To say I want you. To say I miss you. To say I love you. To say everything and anything with a reckless abandon that speaks to a knowledge that it could all go away in an instant and you could be left holding nothing but the broken pieces of a heart half shared. Why are you stuck in a relationship or a situation you do not want? Why are you holding on to someone or something who is only holding you back? It’s time to let go. Let go now, sooner, and later you will find the strength to begin again.
Why not sooner?
We should want to die empty. To die knowing that we put everything out there and when we crawl into our coffins and take our forever naps we should know that we had nothing else to give and nothing else to do. We gave it everything. We didn’t wait for later to do it. We didn’t procrastinate our lives away and we didn’t let someday become never. We started sooner because we knew that the sooner it was begun, the sooner it could be finished. The sooner we could reap the rewards and the sooner we could build the life that we know is worth living.
Why not sooner?
I don’t want the voice in my head screaming down at me, why not sooner! Why haven’t you started yet? Why haven’t you done it yet? Why didn’t you talk to her sooner? Why didn’t you leave him sooner? Why didn’t you say what you meant sooner? Why didn’t you start it all sooner? Why didn’t you get rid of the things that were holding you back sooner? What the fuck were you waiting for!?!
Why not sooner?
If you wait for the right time to do something you really want or need to do you are always going to miss out on something by waiting. Always.
If something is so deep in your heart that you can feel it pulsing and aching with a desire to be released, then you have to do it now. It’s not going to get easier later. It’s not going to get better later. It’s only going to suffocate and die living inside you. Now is where you will always be and now is when you have to do the things you really want to do, because there is no promise of tomorrow.
Better that you should fail now so you can succeed in the future. Hurt now, so you can be happy in the future. Start it all now, sooner rather than later, so you can keep building it higher and higher, and fulfill the promises you have made to yourself.
So ask yourself, what you are putting off? What things are you ignoring in the dark because you are afraid to face them? Because you are afraid they are too hard, too scary, too painful to approach? What things are waiting for you to be given life? What loves are waiting for you to be born or rekindled? What life is waiting for you to be created? Those are the things that you need to drag out of the shadows and pull into the light because those are the things that are going to make you, you.
Those are the things that, after having given them life and seeing what they give to you, will have you living by the litmus test of one constant question, why not sooner?