• Denny Balish

Life is Short

I have routinely wrestle with the meaning of life, particularly when unexpected events rattle my equilibrium.


Over the course of my life, starting at age 9, I have sought answers to critical questions such as: Why am I here? What is mine to do? How much time do I have? How will life end? I have always been a deep thinker, and prone to anxiety and depression, so rumbling with these questions feels somehow comforting.


This past year, amid the worst pandemic we have ever seen, matters of life and death have taken center stage. Fear of loved ones getting sick and dying, as well as my own mortality, hangs in the balance.


Although I believe that life is eternal, and death, a mere portal to our ongoing journey, facing the possibility of a life gone too soon unsettles me. I begin thinking of all the things I have yet to do; all the places I have yet to go; all the experiences I have yet to have. I assume I will get to them someday. But life has no guarantees.


Case in point. A few years ago, I worked with a client (I’ll call her Nancy) who was transitioning into retirement after 35 years with the same company. She had been recruiter straight out of college and worked her way up the corporate ladder, landing in the executive suite.


She expressed infectious enthusiasm about her new life, which included an upcoming move with her husband (also retired) to a new town where they had recently finished building their dream home, near their daughter and son-in-law, and their three lively grandchildren. She looked forward to spending more time with family, volunteering at a local nonprofit, and picking up some neglected hobbies, including gourmet cooking and photography.


With a few weeks remaining on the job, Nancy decided to take advantage of the company’s excellent health insurance and get some minor surgery that she had been putting off for some time because she had never wanted to take off work, which demanded 60-70 hours of her life every week.


I smiled hearing the joy in her voice as she envisioned life on the other side of corporate America. I was happy for her and a little jealous, too, because she could comfortably retire early with an adoring husband in a new home and all the time in the world to do as she pleased. Secretly, I wanted that for myself.


Before we ended our session, we scheduled our next call for two weeks out, post-surgery, to pick up where we left off.


An hour before my next session with Nancy, I jumped on a call with another client, Ann, who, as it turned out, was a friend and colleague of Nancy’s.


We were no more than a minute into our conversation when Ann told me that Nancy had died. Disbelief flooded my brain. Ann went on to tell me that Nancy had developed a blood clot two days after surgery while recuperating at home. The clot went straight to her heart. She died instantly.


“Oh, my God, I am so sorry to hear that,” I said hearing my voice slowly fade away.


I managed to finish my call with Ann, although I have no idea what I said or if I was helpful in any way.


The news of Nancy’s death haunted me for weeks. It seemed so unfair, cruel even, for Nancy to be robbed of the chance to experience a life she spent her entire career securing.


I prayed that would not be my fate but I did see myself in her story—in the hopes and dreams yet realized—in the belief that sacrificing today will be rewarded tomorrow. But what if tomorrow never happens?


None of us know when our time will come. All we have is this moment and the promise of another, into which we can place with tender care, life’s longing.


So, this day, I count my blessings and give thanks for all the good in my life knowing how utterly precious each person, each encounter, each experience truly is.

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© 2020 by Denny Balish