I once had a long talk with a friend who was going to die soon. We both knew it so there was no sense in pretending otherwise. We were standing outside in the early afternoon. It wasn't yet time for my friend to take to bed, though that was coming.
My friend and I were smoking cigarettes--don't get all moral about that, okay? it wasn't what killed my friend and we both loved to smoke.
The sky was that blue that took your breath away. The air was perfect--not too hot, not too cool. The grass was a painful green. Something magic about the afternoon, something so lovely it could make you laugh or bring tears to your eyes.
"Are you going to miss this?" I asked.
"Smoking?" my friend replied, then chuckled. We both laughed. We both knew I meant the wonder of the afternoon, but missing smoking was in there too.
After a long, companionable silence, my friend said, "I think I'll miss most all of it...."
Ever since then, from time to time, I try to notice things I will miss when it comes my time to die. Not in a sentimental or maudlin way--just clearly, so I can imprint the moments deep in my soul. Little things mostly--watching the squirrels chase each other, the sound of birds, the eternal roll of the ocean, the faces of those I love, waking up knowing my dog is beside me in bed, his back against my back, the smell of vanilla, the color of the leaves in early autumn, the taste of fresh coffee flavored with milk and sugar, the laughter of children, the tears I sometimes see sliding down the cheeks of people as they receiving communion, the scent of my wife's hair, something about the moment just before I fall to sleep and the dreams my sleep gifts me with, the day when pitchers and catchers report to spring training, the tone of a piano...a flute...a cello...the weight of my body when I sway to music, sand beneath bare feet....on and on...'most all of it....'
We could do worse, it seems to me, than notice, from time to time, what it is we will miss when it comes time to take to our bed and die.
Just notice and ponder and remember as long as we can.
People ask me often what happens when we die. I really have no clue, but after that perfect afternoon with my friend who has now passed through the magic door, I think this: the best thing would be able to remember all that I miss about being alive....
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