How many people are guilty of ruining a beautiful day because they choose to let worry or past memories trouble them? I know I am. Take yesterday, for example: Instead of grabbing a beach blanket, heading out in the sun, and enjoying the sounds of the ocean, I spent my day off worried about things that are out of my control, things that may or may not happen. Let’s just say, I spent yesterday uninspired and everyone knows inspiration is appreciated by writers and people struggling to get out of bed.
“Here is the secret of inspiration: Tell yourself that thousands and tens of thousands of people, not very intelligent and certainly no more intelligent than the rest of us, have mastered problems as difficult as those that now baffle you.” ~ William Feather
Since my cancer diagnosis, I’ve been worried. I’ve been focused on regretting past mistakes, “stuck” in the “if I had to do it all again” mantra, and singing the “what will happen if” rhapsody. I think many people can relate. The anxiety doesn’t have to be caused by an unwanted health diagnosis; life challenges everyone. Problems are inescapable.
Remember the film Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams (playing the character of John Keating) says; “’Carpe diem’-seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”?
Life is about now; living today. Even George Harrison, one of the Beatles, understood the concept of carpe diem. In an interview, Harrison said:
“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”
One Story about Carpe Diem
My friend John shared a story with me. He described what it was like for his father, Miguel, to move his wife and kids from Portugal to the United States many years ago. John (translated from Portuguese from Joao, his birth name) was only two years old when he came to the United States. He said that during his childhood, he didn’t see his dad much because his father was always working. John’s dad worked hard to support his family, sometimes seven days a week.
Despite the lack of family time and no real vacations, John’s dad, Miguel, made great plans for his retirement. Instead of “living for today,” Miguel lived for future days, the days following his retirement, when all the sacrifices he had made for his family would finally be rewarded. He would travel with his wife, enjoy the ocean, and read books that he had never had time to read. He’d be able to spend time with his children, making up for all the family time lost when he was working overtime in construction. But life had other plans.
One month after retiring, Miguel was diagnosed with cancer and died suddenly. His plans for the future never came to fruition and all the years of hard work and sacrifice amounted to broken dreams for his wife; dreams that swirled without rhythm, like dust in a windstorm.
This tragic event greatly affected my friend John. The death of his father changed the way he viewed life. Life was no longer about planning for the future but for living in the present. Life was not meant to be spent rehashing the past or worrying about the future. After Miguel’s death, John viewed life as a series of choices made daily: to live in the present, cherish the little things, and be free to act and take chances.
Following his father’s death, John had a tattoo placed on his back reading “Carpe Diem”. Then, spontaneously, John planned a trip to Spain, taking unplanned time out from work to fulfill a childhood dream of his: to run with the bulls.
Photo credit: Susana Vera/Reuters
During a phone conversation with John last night, he asked me how I had spent my day off, and I told him. After listening to my response, John grew quiet. Then, my friend said to me: “You know, there are people worse off. You wasted a beautiful day. You could have spent it being happy. ‘I run with the bulls.’ That’s my philosophy. No matter what, that’s what I do. You’re worrying about things that may not happen. Be happy. Learn to run with the bulls!”
Running with the bulls: an act of freedom, taking a chance, trying something new, having a mind of one’s own, not letting fear stand in your way, living for the moment. It’s like playing the part of John Keating in that one scene from Dead Poets Society. Shouldn’t every day be “extraordinary”?
The happiest people live in the present. It’s a lesson I need to remember.