The old man smiled, one last time. Battered by disease, soft wrinkled skin drooped lazily over his brittle skeleton and each breath he took exacted a heavy price. He knew he didn’t have many of them left. His hair was gone, and the muscles of what was once an elite athlete could barely support the weight of his head. But his eyes were clear and bright, shining intensely, staunchly refusing to miss a second of this, his final passage and greatest adventure.
The thing that struck me most about his eyes, the thing that I will never forget, was the absolute lack of fear within them. There was curiosity, forgiveness, acceptance, and the slightest bit of nervous anticipation, but no fear. My own eyes were cloudy and wet. I was afraid. My head was spinning as I tried to find the right words. I choked on the simplest expressions of love and gratitude, of admiration and respect, in the end all that came out was a blubbering version of “I love you,” yet somehow that was enough.
I leaned in to give him a final hug and his chalky hands tensed around mine. A strength that could not have been his own held me close as he whispered in my ear. His voice was rough with emotion and scratchy from the effort of speech.
His last words, like his life, have become a mantra of mine. They remind me of what matters, and how precious a gift life is. The words themselves were simple, and even through the pain of disease I could hear his smile and sense his satisfaction within them. “Kitt,” he said, “there is only one thing in life that you can be sure of.” His breath was warm against my ear, and it brought with it a sudden calm. The confused sobs of helplessness and tight black sorrow that held my heart released their grip. Clasping my face gently in his hands he looked into my eyes and I could feel all his energy, all the vitality that he had ever possessed flow through me as he spoke. “The simple truth is, you live, and then you die, so you damn well better live.”
So here’s to living; every day, every moment, because in the end, all we ever have is how we choose to live.