Do you remember the first time you did something important? First times are often memorable. That’s why we keep track of our children’s first words or first steps. We remember our first kiss, our first car and our first job.
What is less likely is that we remember the last time we did something. Last times are often more ordinary, or if they are important, we often don’t know it at the time. Do you remember the last time you sat with your toddler on your lap and read a story?
Last week, I did something ordinary for the last time; I put my contact lens in my eye just as I have done every morning for hundreds and thousands of days. I have worn glasses or contacts since I was eight years old. As I put the solution on the lens and put it in my eye, I was very conscious of the fact that I would never repeat this simple daily action again.
I vividly remember the day I got my first glasses. I had trouble walking out of the eye doctor’s office. The sidewalk seemed to go downhill and I couldn’t get my bearings. I remember how much brighter everything appeared, how the print on the wallpaper jumped out at me and the detail I could see in people’s faces.
After my second eye surgery in as many months, I am free from needing corrective vision. I can read the numbers on the alarm clock without fumbling around to find my glasses. I can swim without wearing contacts. I can travel without extra lens, prescriptions, solutions and multiple glass classes. Being able to see is a really big deal. I will remember the last day I needed glasses, but it got me thinking of all the last times I don’t remember.
Maybe the last times get forgotten because they are too painful to remember. I remember the last time I held my dog Molly before we had to put her down. I won’t forget looking into her eyes, and whispering, “I’m sorry” as she looked up at me. She was in pain, and I knew she understood, but it didn’t make it any easier.
Could I bear it if I knew while I was snuggled up with my young daughters reading a bedtime story that it was for last time? What if I knew a visit to the beach would be the last time I would ever watch water lap up against the rocks, or watch a parade of ducks paddling by? I don’t remember the last words I spoke to my mother before she died. I didn’t know they were the last words I would ever speak to her. Would knowing have made it impossible?
In the play Our Town, by Thornton Wilder, the main character, Emily, dies in childbirth. In ACT 3, in a scene in a graveyard where she talks with the dead, she asks to go back and revisit a day in her life. She wants to visit a happy day, but she is cautioned to choose the least important day of her life and that it will be important enough.
As she revisits a childhood birthday, Emily realizes that the living don’t understand the special things in life while they are living. She notices all the wonderful things she took for granted, sunflowers and coffee, sleeping and waking up. She realizes that the moments go by too fast, and people barely have time to look at one another. ” I didn’t realize.” she says, “…all that was going on and we never noticed.”
“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? – every, every minute?” she asks.
The answer is no.
In a moment of despondence, she declares, ” That’s all human beings are. Just blind people!”
Do we throw away our lives waiting for the memorable moments? The big firsts? Do we throw away the little things, the hundreds of thousands of everyday happenings that make up our lives?
I am guilty. I spent years rushing through my life, too busy to pay attention to the things around me. I think about the things I missed, and it saddens me. I know I’m not the only one.
Unlike Emily, we can’t go back and revisit our past days. But we can see the future differently.
What if we slowed down enough to really pay attention? We could appreciate the taste of a well brewed cup of coffee. We could be more aware of people and things around us. We could find more small moments to smile about. We could see the big picture and not worry about petty annoyances.
We could take off our glasses, and rather than walking through life blindly, we could learn to see again.