Would we do things differently if we knew it was the last time?

What we call the beginning is often the end.
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

T.S. Eliot

I used to tell my kids how many Sundays I had left with each of them. Sunday’s were precious to me. They were family time. They were “free time”. I started to publicly mourn the declining number of Sundays we had left—before they left the house for college.

“Just 47 Sundays left.”

“Dad, please stop saying that!”

It motivated me to focus on the time we had left together. There would be a last Sunday and I was trying to prepare for it. 

I remember many firsts especially as a parent. The first laugh, walk, word…. First seems so precious. We wait for it. We celebrate it.

Maybe it was the first kiss. The first time we said I love you.

These moments might have been filled with anxiety and or anticipation. It may have required planning. It happened when you were fully aware and alive.

Firsts are special. They are breakthrough moments. They get etched into our memories.

The lasts we may not know. If we are lucky, we might be able to orchestrate the final kiss, “I love you” or “Goodbye”. But it is unlikely.

As the Southwest airline stewardess said, “Shift happens.”

Was the last time I skied the last time I ski? Not sure. But my knees and my back say, probably. But I did not know. I do not know.

The last time I played golf with my Dad, I thought we had many more rounds to play.

Will I see the statue of David again?

Our minds can be filled with what we want and the needs of others interfere with ours. Shared moments are transactions that may have delayed my gratification.

I sat at my desk in Kerckhoff Hall at UCLA for the last time on the eve of my graduation. I had spent hundreds of hours as a student leader with this amazing view of the campus. I never really looked out the window before until I was packing up my things and I took a photo. I stared at the huge sycamores and the Romanesque architecture for the first time and the last time filled with great emotion. It was the end of a beginning. My mother turned it into a painting that I look at everyday.

I have very few “last” memories like this. I moved on quickly. Replacing the old with the new. I was off to what was next, without the contemplation of what I was leaving and what it had given me. Yeah perhaps a lack of real gratitude, but as I look back, a lack of appreciation for my emerging history.

My wife says we need to celebrate everything! Not a big fan of birthdays, but I finally understand what she has been saying. Every moment is worth savoring and even celebrating. The moments that might be firsts or lasts. We might not know so we celebrate them all. We witness them. We see them.

When we are born we begin to die.  Mati Waiya

If I think too much about this, I get a pang in my chest. I wonder if I was present for others and for myself at the events that have passed. How my selfishness obscured my better self.

But any time I ponder these momentary regrets I have to focus on the here and now, before I make new regrets!

To hug like I mean it. To say I love you with feeling. To have eye contact when I toast someone. To thank and acknowledge others in the moment.
I am telling you that I try. I am not always successful.

Being more aware now will never make up for my lapses of the past. Too many to count or contemplate.

We tell ourselves that this will not be the last time. That we will be back, we will return. We will do this again. The next time we will spend more time…..
But mostly we don’t. We lie to ourselves unwittingly. The undertow of life pulls us to new shores and new places.

But as I age, I am trying to see every moment as a first and a last. 

Whether the first time or the last time, everything we undertake is new. It may not be literally the first time but it is a different time. It may feel similar or even identical and our brain will start to blur because we think we know what to do, what we see. We miss the moment as we relive the memory and miss the new reality.

When things are truly new and awe inspiring, we use all our senses, and we feel and we see with great acuity. And if we fight off the thought of a social media posting, or the judgmental mind that seeks perfection, we can actually experience the great beauty of the moment in all of its glory.

So most first times are the last times.

Would we do things differently if we knew it was the last time?

While we have great and imaginary expectations about our life expectancy or even the duration of our enjoyment of things, we know that all things will come to an end and often not within our control. So the last time we’ll be doing something is never going to be fully known by us.

As a parent, first time/last time: first time you see your child walk the last time that your child will call you “daddy” their first laugh and the last time they laugh at your jokes. 

The first time or the last, whatever ignites your sense. of awareness, your mindfulness, your presence and a gesture of gratitude. To experience what is happening, to be fully conscious.

Can we adopt a beginner’s mind devoid of assumptions and judgment. To be inspired by awe and wonder?

Or will our unexpected death motivate us? Will the unexpected death of others motivate us?

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. Winston Churchill

We are at the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end.

What would we do if you knew exactly when we were going to die?

What would we say?

What are we waiting for?

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February 24, 2023  8-9:30am PST

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