Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.
Seize today, and put as little trust as you can in the morrow. - Horace
You could say 1988 was the year that I lived like there was no tomorrow.
It had nothing to do with reckless behavior, taking up skydiving or being diagnosed with a rare, intractable disease; it had everything to do with making myself available for life at full speed and carving out time for the people and things I loved.
We hear a lot about living in the present, seizing the day, embracing the moment, and the power of now. But how many of you, like me, get the theory but forget the practice? Nineteen-ninety eight was my opportunity to change that …forever. The events of that year brought home the “power of now” with all the subtlety of a high-impact collision… or two.
The year began with the perfect remedy for a frosty Winnipeg winter, a surprise week-long getaway with my younger sister Grace.
“Gracie” and I shared many things —clothes, secrets, a passion for well-dressed men, and a thirst for adventure. And now, as two very cosmopolitan Prairie girls, we were about to check off the top item of our “Must Do Immediately” list – our first trip to New York City.
In seven days and six sleep-deprived nights, we took Manhattan – all of it. We perused the racks at Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, strolled the winding paths through Central Park, and walked miles in ridiculous shoes to dazzled by the window displays (and prices!) in the shops along Fifth Avenue. We sat mesmerized in elegant Broadway theatres watching singing Cats, and high-kicking dancers in A Chorus Line. We applauded wildly from the balcony of Radio City, awestruck listening to live performances by Cyndi Lauper, Billy Joel and Carly Simon at David Letterman’s anniversary show. And in the city that never sleeps, we partied well into the night like misguided socialites at New York’s hottest clubs.
When daylight returned, we took in the towering Manhattan skyline from various points of view—the air, water, and streets—in a helicopter, from the deck of the Staten Island Ferry at dusk, and the back seat of several yellow cabs.
We used every New York minute to take the biggest, sweetest bite we could from the Big Apple. It was a never-ending lucid dream in one of the world’s greatest cities.
In February, an unexpected close encounter with a moving car brought life’s fragility to my attention. A 16 year-old driver passed a van that had stopped to allow me to cross Winnipeg’s main thoroughfare and hit me at a pedestrian crosswalk. I bounced off the hood of her car like a bad dismount off a trampoline, was thrown about 15 feet from the point of impact, and landed on the pavement, smashing my right knee. I was conscious throughout the entire “flight” and miraculously had no head injuries or other fractures.
An ambulance that was passing by (talk about synchronicity) stopped, and the paramedic did a curbside assessment before taking me to city’s largest hospital.
The ER doctor told me I could have been killed … no freakin’ kidding! But seconds before the impact a little voice in my head said “Jump!” and a last minute action-hero-inspired leap onto the car’s hood probably saved my life – and certainly my legs.
Shaken but awakened by the collision, I escaped without serious injury and was released from the ER within a few hours.
There’s nothing like a brush with death to bring life into sharp focus and offer new perspective.
Though slightly battered after being struck by a car, that didn’t stop me from taking a long-promised trip to California with Grace and my dad. As kids, my parents had taken us to the Magic Kingdom but this time we were taking Dad to Disneyland, and to see his best friend in Orange County. My golden-haired sister and I, on our second vacation in as many months, were happy chaperons.
The summer flew by, and in September, Grace invited me to rendezvous with her and her friends in Montreal for an Amnesty International concert and a few days of old world charm in Vieux Montreal. There’s a photo of all of us overlooking the city from Mount Royal, looking like college kids filled with optimism, standing at the top of the world. That scene is forever etched in my mind. That and the sound of Bruce Springsteen belting out Born in the USA live at Olympic Stadium.
Our adventures in New York City, California and Quebec marked 1988 as a year to remember – the months imbued with a feeling of endless celebration and joie de vivre. We were living large, living in the present yet planning for the future, and enjoying the languorous luxury of time without taking it for granted.
A cold night in November changed everything.
In our typical ‘seize the day’ style, we took a road trip to visit our older sister Elaine for a family weekend, complete with lots of home cooking, deep conversations, and walks under vast prairie skies.
After a delightful weekend, Grace and I signed my sister’s “guest book,” a family tradition to remember our visits, said our good-byes with hugs and kisses, and headed home to Winnipeg.
About halfway into our journey, on a small two-lane highway in a pitch-black November night, as I rounded a curve I saw glaring headlights from an oncoming vehicle that appeared to be approaching us head on. It was.
Darkness. Silence. My next conscious memory is waking up in the tiny hospital of Treherne Manitoba. We had been hit, at about 60 miles-an-hour, by a drunk driver. I survived; my little sister died instantly, six inches from my side in the passenger seat.
At my sister’s funeral, despite the tragic events, we celebrated a life of 23 years lived fully, and one who lived with an open heart, sense of adventure, and a deep love for family and friends… right to the final breath.
Looking back, I realize that I took every opportunity that year to celebrate LIFE – its joys, its opportunities, its heart-breaks. It was as if I had some advanced notice, if only subconsciously, that the best year to live flat-out, laugh often, travel widely, and cherish each moment with loved ones… is always the year you’re living in now.
Nineteen eighty-eight was the year my sister and I made ourselves available for the people, places and dreams that mattered.
Though I was working full-time as a nurse, and Grace was finishing a university degree, we said “Yes!” to everything the universe sent our way; we set dates, booked the time to follow our bliss, and most importantly, we showed up.
“Someday” was not on our calendar.
Death of a loved one, or our own near-death, always offers new perspective on what truly matters… and what is simply irrelevant or insignificant. It is an acute reminder of both life’s fragility and unpredictability and, for me, a “note to self” that while our dreams have no expiry date, our physical time on this earth does.
I no longer wait for “someday” to pursue what really matters. Near-death experiences can be extreme wake-up call… and I don’t want to sleep through the alarm.
The time—to make time—for the people, work, or dreams you care about is always now.
Here are six of ways to live fully, live now… and avoid the cost of “someday”:
1) Put your true desire(s) at the top of your To-Do list.
Your desires are not random; they are yours for a reason, and are often (if not always) part of your purpose here. And remember, the journey should be as much fun as the destination.
2) Decide what’s most important to you and take action TODAY. Don’t wait for next month, next year or the next decade. Even small steps can lead to big changes… make a move toward greatness without delay. Action begets action, and the most important thing is to begin.
3) Schedule time for your dreams.
Book a date, set a deadline (even a tentative one), and put it in your calendar as to when you’ll meet your goal or promise. The universe loves commitment; it implies that you are serious about taking action and then the universe will conspire to support you.
4) Notice synchronicity and act on opportunities.
Once you move toward what you love and “follow your bliss”, as Joseph Campbell said, “doors will open to you where you didn’t know they were going to be.” Check out what’s behind those doors!
5) Show up. Be there for the people, projects and passions that count. Action begets action; and that requires “showing up” to do the work. If you want to publish a book, you must show up at your desk and write; if you want to be an entrepreneur, you must show up and run your business; if you want to have more love you must show up and give more love.
6) Your future is created by what you do today, not tomorrow.
Since that life-changing year of 1988, I’ve switched careers (from a pediatric nurse to a writer with an MA in Journalism); started my own business; become a bestselling author; lived, worked and studied on four continents (realizing an array of audacious dreams in some fabulous locations); and created unforgettable experiences with family, friends, and a few soul mates.
My crazy goals and wildest dreams have become a reality because of what has become my daily motivation: “Someday is not on the calendar.”