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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Sense of Urgency

I was grateful to spend Thanksgiving day with my lifelong friend Judy and her large extended family, including many young people, both in college and college bound. I don’t really know these kids all that well, chiefly as their great-aunt’s friend who they may see every couple of years.

But they are good kids and polite and so put up with my questions about how they were doing in school and what they hoped to do once they graduated. The usual questions non-familial adults might ask the young, I imagine.

And, of course, once I heard their answers, I couldn’t help but offer some unsolicited advice. After all, I’ve been around the block several turns now, including the academic one, having been adjunct at several universities over the years.

But all the while I kept trying to imagine myself at their ages—late teens/early twenties—wondering how I might have responded to the advice, even from a reasonably knowledgeable source. Would it even have registered? And if it did, would I have given it more than two seconds’ worth of my time?

Then, the day after Thanksgiving, I stumbled on a book review in the New York Times by Heather Lende: On Living, by hospice chaplain Kerry Egan. (Link below) Here’s how Lende describes the book:

“On Living” is part memoir, part spiritual reflection and part narration of tales told to Egan by her [hospice] patients.

Each of those “parts” of the book interests me, as a writer and a teacher especially, but also as someone thinking about how to use these remaining years of what’s turning out to be a blessedly long-ish life.

Ah, so here I am, a bona fide old person, now seeking the unsolicited advice I would’ve ignored—or even scorned—while in the midst of my late teens/early twenties. Funny how that works.

But, lucky me, this particular bit of advice from Chaplain Egan definitely struck a chord, especially the sense of urgency:

“If there is any great difference between the people who know they are dying and the rest of us, it’s this: They know they’re running out of time. They have more motivation to do the things they want to do, and to become the person they want to become. . . . There’s nothing stopping you from acting with the same urgency the dying feel.”

So, if like me, you’re looking for how to stay motivated in your life—to “do the things” you want to do and “become the person” you want to be—this book might be worth a read.

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