My last day as a patient assistant was last Friday. One of my favorite patients, a teeny tiny elderly woman who is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, had an appointment that morning. She doesn’t take much medicine and tries to stay as active as possible, even at 91 years old. Even though she only comes in to see the doctor when she’s sick, she’s never cross or whiny at all. Being around her makes me feel younger, lighter, and deeper.
This summer, several patients I knew died. Most of them were warm, wonderful people. A few of them were quite the opposite, and seemed to infect the office with bitterness and negativity when they were there.
While reading their obituaries in the local paper before starting to work on the crossword puzzle with James, curled up next to a quiet fire in our wood stove, I reflected on each of their lives and the effect they’d had on me. It seemed odd that one of the kindest men who died had a very short obituary, listing very little about his family, personality, preferences, influence, or accomplishments while one of the grumpier men of the group had a page-long obituary, highlighting every twist and turn, playing to his pivotal moments and strengths. I was one of the few people I knew who actually tried to like him. I liked him simply because I knew he needed someone to listen to him, care for him, and see beyond the prickly exterior into his heart. I don’t know if it ever mattered to him that I made an effort to get to know him. But it mattered to me and made me feel better about the choice I’d made to treat him well during each encounter.
Reading patients’ obituaries—people I really knew and loved—made me think about my own life. How many obituaries have I read without ever knowing the people whose lives were described? If my life comes down to just a few paragraphs, does it really matter? How many people in the world will never even know me? If they only encounter me once, what kind of Bethany will they remember? Do I love people, provoking them to love me or think of me fondly in return?
All most people will ever read of me is a few paragraphs in the local paper at my birth and my death. It’s what’s in between that is my own to make of it what I will. Most of the things I do and have an interest in and work toward will fade away and yellow with time, right along with my obituary in the newspaper. The people I love will remember me, but eventually someone will write their obituaries, too.
All I have is right now. All I can do is seek to make the most of today every single day and let my thoughts and heart turn toward God all day every day. My relationship with Him is the only thing I have that won’t fade or be forgotten. Loving others well spreads a little bit of forever around to everyone I encounter. If I’m focused on tomorrow, I’m not living today. If I’m not living today, I’m not investing in what lasts.
I just thank God for forever. Right now.