One of the Most Crucial Clichés

Don’t blink, ’cause just like that, you’re six years old and you take a nap; and you wake up and you’re twenty-five, and your high school sweetheart becomes your wife. Don’t blink—you just might miss your babies growin’ like mine did, turning into moms and dads. Next thing you know, your better half of fifty years is there in bed, and you’re prayin’ God takes you instead. Trust me, friend, a hundred years goes faster than you think, so don’t blink.” —Kenny Chesney

At one point in our lives, we’ve all been told some variation of the very cliché phrase, “Life is short.” In one form or another—whether from book themes, song lyrics, church sermons, or your relatives at family reunions—it is repeated over and over to the point of tiresome redundancy. But guess what? Those authors and artists and pastors (and even those extended family members you only see once a year and can never remember the names of or how they’re even related to you) are right—life really is short.

Today (technically yesterday since it’s almost 1:30 am) while on a delivery for the pizza place I work at, I was driving down a main road that I use quite frequently. With the GPS on my phone as my guide, I drove to the house, did what I usually do, and no more than five minutes later, was turning back onto that same main road to return to work. Everything was normal. As I turned onto the road and approached the next stop light, however, I quickly realized that something was not normal. Nearly a dozen police cars were parked in various locations down the stretch of road, each with its bright lights flashing red and blue. Sirens were blaring and an ambulance hurtled past as everyone pulled over to let it through. A smashed-up motorcycle was lying on its side in the middle of the street, a car (which looked like it had hit the motorcycle at a fairly high speed) was beside it, and there was at least one person on the ground, a small throng of people crowded around him or her. Now I don’t know the specifics regarding the accident, I don’t know much about medical happenings, and I was really trying to avoid looking too closely as I passed by; but generally, if there is an accident and there are people with non-fatal injuries, paramedics will arrive rapidly, whisk the victims away to the nearest emergency room, and the site is cleared relatively quickly. But judging by the amount of time the road was blocked off by cones and police cars for over three hours afterwards, my educated guess is that somebody was killed (or at least injured seriously enough to necessitate blocking off half the road). While the entire scene had assembled in a matter of three or four minutes, the actual accident—like most traffic accidents—likely happened in mere seconds. In any case of any type of accident, numerous lives—including those of the victim’s or victims’ family and friends—can be completely altered in less than a few short minutes or seconds. Although I don’t know the specific cause, many accidents involving vehicles boil down to a second or two of distraction. Just a second—or even a fraction of a second—of being unaware of your surroundings or glancing at a cell phone or speeding right past a stop sign—can result in tragedy. And it can all happen in less than a few minutes. That’s really all it takes, guys: one moment, a blink of the eye, and a life can be cut short.

Most of us (including myself) have made plans for the rest of the week. Tomorrow I’m doing this and Thursday I’m doing that, then on Saturday I’m going to do this before I work on Saturday night… etcetera. And there’s nothing (inherently) wrong with planning ahead—there really isn’t. But here’s the thing: None of us are guaranteed the chance to live until tomorrow. “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow,” James 4:14 says. “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Just like that traffic accident, our lives can change (or end) in mere seconds. At funerals, what does everyone always say? Whether the person was nine or ninety, it’s almost always the same: “[This person] died too soon,” or “[So-and-so] had so much life left to live.” Life on earth is a lot shorter than we think it is. If we spend too much time focusing on what’s ahead, we become consumed with the future and forget to enjoy the present. The only life we are guaranteed is this moment we’re living now. The breath you are breathing in and out right now is the only breath you’re guaranteed—you never know which breath could be your last.

Now I didn’t say all of that to make you fear death or dying—I said it because unfortunately, it oftentimes takes a death (or a near-death) to fully realize just how short life is. While I do believe Heaven will be infinitely grander than life on this earth (like, completely, utterly, unimaginably, indescribably, and incomprehensibly more amazing), the life we are blessed with here is valuable, too, and it is much too short to waste excessively worrying about the future or fretting over the past. The past is unchangeable and you’re not guaranteed a future, so you might as well focus on what you know you have for sure: the present. And, as I said, that can change in an instant, so don’t waste time harboring ill feelings, either. Don’t let things slip right past you and go unsaid or undone. Apologize to the friend you hurt; remind your parents that you love them; tell that cute guy you’ve had your eye on that you like him; forgive the mistakes of others; throw the ball for your dog even though you’re tired. Whatever it is you need to say or do to make the most out of today, do it, because tomorrow isn’t a promise nor a right—it’s a blessing.

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