Lately, due to both personal, and world events, I’ve been struck by a seeming contradiction between 2 well-worn phrases, that almost all of us have heard voiced from time to time. “Live each day as if it was your last” is an old chestnut that is a sobering view, at once a call for action (or at least for attention!) in the only day guaranteed to us (today). I could split hairs and say we might only be guaranteed an hour, or a minute, but let’s not go there). The contrary cliche is that “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”. This platitude looks to imply that you need to plan for the future, and to obvious analysis, if today is your last, planning would be kind of beside the point, other than planning one’s last meals, family contacts, etc.
So we might nod our heads and say, yes, this just proves the fallacy of putting much stock in cliches, which as my son and I have often reflected aren’t true just because they are cleverly worded and concise. In fact it’s tempting to say, that each is partially true, or even, since they apparently contradict each other, maybe neither is.
But while I am always quick to be dismissive of short phrases that amount to horoscope advice, a closer examination suggests a common thread that runs through both of these bromides. And that is: You can’t live your life tied to the past. Informed by it, yes; counciled by it’s lessons, certainly. But beyond that, you can’t allow what has happened to weigh too heavily on your view of today.
Whatever has happened, one can’t go back and change it. If you allow yesterday too much to burden your heart, this emotional baggage will prevent you from living today with hope and gratitude. And that is mostly what we need to do. We are grateful that we’re alive, and that has nothing whatever to do with what has gone before. It’s an amazing thing to see and be a part of the world, and if we are so blessed, to share it with family, friends, and even casual associates. Who among us, has not been in a line at a store, or in a crowd waiting to see a show, or visit some attraction, or any of a number of chance interaction scenarios, and struck up a friendly conversation, and found a moment of shared insight, or laughed at a joke, or commiserated on a common challenge with another fellow passenger on this ship we call “life”? This can’t be easily explained as motivated by a desire for personal gain or glory. It’s much easier to see it as it most likely is; a moment of shared pleasure in the mere act of being alive.
So if we are to live each day as if it is our last, then gratitude that we are here is essential. And letting go of our baggage is too. What about it being the first day of the rest of our life? Aside of that logically being true, it gives us to understand that facing the day without hope is no way to live. If we can take that deep breath, and decide, that whatever has gone before, we’ll muster forward with optimism, and courage, we can plan for the future, even knowing that it may not come. And if this IS our last day, our spending it with hope and gratitude will have been perhaps the best use of the life that we have been blessed with.