We all have our challenges. Our children are driving us crazy. Too much going on at work, and not enough time to get it done. Our body sends us daily reminders that life is not what it used to be.
Few of us, however, face challenges comparable to Susan Spender-Wendell’s. Susan was a well-respected journalist at the Palm Beach Post, happily married with three young children, when she learned at age 44 that she had ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is a gradually debilitating motor neuron disease. There is no cure and most people die of respiratory failure within three to five years.
Susan faced a choice about how to live the rest of her life; the same choice each of us faces every morning. Susan chose to embrace life, to focus on what she could do, and to live with joy as she so inspirationally shares in her new book, “Until I Say Good-Bye: My Year of Living with Joy.”
Susan prioritized. She focused on doing the things she could still do before her disease eliminated those options. She traveled to the Arctic to see the Northern lights, went on a cruise with her sister, toured around Greece to meet relatives she tracked down after finally learning about her biological father, now deceased, and planned a trip with each of her two older children.
The most poignant moment in the book may be when she takes her 14-year-old to New York where they make a trip to a bridal shop. Susan asks her daughter to try on wedding dresses, knowing she won’t be there when she gets married.
As we age, we all face a similar, although far less traumatic, and dramatic challenge. While we may not know when or what we will die of, as Susan does, we slowly lose our ability to do what we once could. No matter how well we eat and how much we exercise, we all suffer physical and mental losses as we move into our later years. That is just life, unavoidable.
We do have a choice, however, in how we live our lives as we age.
Like Susan, we can choose to focus on doing the things that require physical and mental exertion sooner rather than later. If you have always dreamed of visiting America’s national parks, going to Machu Picchu in Peru or taking a bike trip with your adult children, there is no time like the present.
We can also embrace and be grateful for what we can do, instead of lamenting what we can no longer do. I have a friend who loved to golf. Between his hips and knees, golfing has become too difficult. Instead of bemoaning the loss of golfing with his buddies, he has taken up bridge and created a whole new set of friendships.
Susan writes of taking a dip in her pool and while floating on her stomach, realizes she no longer has the strength to lift her head. After her friends pull her to safety, she realizes she can no longer swim. “So how shall I handle it? Pine away for something I can no longer do? Something I adored? No,” she writes. “For that is the path to the loony bin. To want something you can never have.”
Time is our most precious and scarcest resource. For those dreams that require strength and stamina, remember that a dream delayed might become a dream denied. Instead of lamenting over what you can no longer do, focus on what you can do to add meaning and joy to your life.
And don’t wait to do what you have always wanted to do. Because, as we all know, tomorrow is promised to nobody. Choose life.