Have you ever concluded a day by reflecting on its significance? Have you ever concluded a day by reflecting on its significance? Sally Salmond ponders a couple of days from her life. ponders a couple of days from her life.
Would I regret today?
If I were told I would die in one hour, what would I feel about the day I had just lived?
I don’t usually think about these sorts of things, but the other day this thought popped into my head as I was driving home very late from a friend’s place. I had just spent an entire Sunday helping two friends shift out of one house and go their respective ways. By the time 3 am rolled around—yes 3 am—I collapsed into my car and started my journey home.
Halfway home the exhaustion started setting in and I realised it would be easy to nod off at the wheel. So of course, to keep myself awake, I began to think about what I would feel if this was the last day of my life—as you do!
The questions started piling on top of me like cheese on a pizza!
What have I done with my life? Has my life amounted to anything? Did my life have a purpose? What have I spent my life focusing on? Did I get it right? Were my priorities OK or did I focus on the wrong things? Who would miss me? Who loved me, who did I love? Now, I know that this is all a bit heavy for three in the morning, and I’m not sure where they came from, but these questions really got my attention!
So I thought about my day. Would I regret today if it were my last? After a few moments I decided that helping my friends sweat and toil in shifting and cleaning house was something I wouldn’t regret. It may have been a long and tiring day, but I did it because I loved them and didn’t want to see them struggle. No, I wouldn’t regret this day of my life
Phew. What a relief!
But then it occurred to me, what about the other days of my life? How many of them had I already wasted on the wrong things? How many had I wasted in worry about things that never happened? How many had I just wasted full stop by doing nothing? As I pondered these questions about my life, the memory of a beautiful day spent in Switzerland flashed before me.
There I was, in Montreux, right on Lake Geneva with an unplanned afternoon. I sauntered down to the lake edge and decided the perfect thing to do was to wander aimlessly around its shores until I found the perfect place to sit, absorb the scene before me and just “be.” I found a comfy bench right on the lake edge and settled in to be entranced by the beauty around me. This moment was all about me—or so I thought.
A few minutes after I had discovered my little oasis, a smartly dressed, elderly man ventured up to my bench and sat down. I was annoyed that my moment was being interrupted, and wondered how I was going to make him move on. As he sat down he smiled at me and greeted me with “Bonjour.” Now if anyone knows me at all, they know that I love the sound of the French language, but alas only know about 10 words. So of course I drew on that marvellous knowledge to respond with “Bonjour, parlez vous Anglais?” hoping he did not know any English and I could be left to my thoughts. Of course, being Swiss he knew many languages and English was one of his best.
So, all of a sudden I found myself wrenched from my perfect moment into the middle of a conversation with an elderly Swiss man. As we talked (he mostly talked, I mostly listened), I found out that he lived on the edge of the lake a little further on, in a fabulously large mansion. He told me he had been extremely successful in business and that he had travelled the world in the lap of luxury. (At this point I was wondering if he needed an adopted granddaughter, but thought it may be a little rude to suggest since we had only just met!) As he went on, I sensed something was missing in all his talk of success and wealth; he didn’t seem happy.
I started asking him about his family; were they close by, did he see them often, and it was then that he went very quiet. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I just sat there and waited. Finally, with tears in his eyes, he turned to look at me and said that he didn’t have one. He told me that with all of his success and wealth he had really screwed his life up.
For the next hour I sat and listened to this sad, lonely man confide that he had focused on the wrong priorities in his life. He had put money and success before family and friends; he had treated people poorly in business just to get ahead and now he regretted a lot of his life and wished he could go back and do it right.
It was sad to see him go. I doubted I would ever see him again and as I watched him walk off toward his mansion, I wondered about the rest of his life and hoped that somehow he would find peace and happiness.
Since that afternoon by Lake Geneva, I have thought about him a number of times. But as I sat at the traffic lights at 3.15 am, willing them to change, his parting words seemed more significant than ever, “Listen to an old man who knows—don’t waste your life, focus on the right things.”
A couple of weeks after my early morning philosophising, I found myself listening to a very cool jazz band in a park, although I probably should have been cleaning the house. As my friends and I listened to the band with hundreds of other music lovers, I told them about my Swiss encounter and asked them what they thought. Most of them said they agreed with him and that people and relationships were the most important things in life.
As the afternoon wore on, I watched the people around me and wondered again about my priorities. Did I have them right? What did I give most of my time and energy to? Would I look back like my Swiss friend and regret my decisions? Would I be surrounded by things and not people?
As I looked around me, I again asked myself that question—if I were told that I would die in one hour, what would I feel about the day I had just lived?
Would I regret not cleaning my house today? Maybe, but I think not.
Would I regret being spellbound by beautiful music? I don’t think so.
Would I wish I hadn’t laughed and talked my way through an afternoon with people I loved? No. If I were to die in one hour, the only thing I would regret is that I wouldn’t have any more time with the people I love. I looked at each of my crazy friends, I watched their faces, I listened to their voices and I smiled knowing that today, maybe I had got things right!
If I told you that you would die in one hour, what would you feel about the day you just lived?