A year ago today was the last full day of my dad’s life. When he woke up that morning he had no idea this day would be his last. My dad did not die from a long-term or terminal illness. He died in a terrible accident – while on vacation.
This picture of me was taken the evening of October 29th — the day my dad died. At the time it was taken my family knew he was gone.
They had yet to get in touch with me.
What I didn’t know as I unlocked my bike in Amsterdam that night was that in a matter of hours I would wake up to a flood of vague, yet urgent emails indicating something horrible had happened, and I needed to call home immediately. As this picture was being taken, I didn’t know my dad, the one I had laughed with on the phone just a few days prior – was gone. I didn’t know this smile and this laughter would also, soon, be gone.
For me, there is no image that better represents the fragility of life. There is no image that shows how quickly life can change and as such there is no picture which better represents how the moment, each moment, should be lived, celebrated, felt.
In this picture I was happy. I had plans to live in Europe until the holidays. I thought I was headed to Morocco, to Germany, to Dublin. I thought I had two living parents.
What the world knew when this picture was taken, that I did not, was in a matter of days I would not be in Morocco – I would be sitting in the front row – at my dad’s funeral.
Many think the saying; “Life is short.” is cliché. 365 days ago I would have agreed. A day later I would begin, what I now understand, will be a lifelong journey with this harsh and beautiful reality.
I watch people now.
I watch them pretty closely.
I watch them get angry in traffic. Get upset at their partners for the inconsequential occurrences of everyday humanity. I watch people yell at their kids. I watch people politick at work. I watch people not take ‘that’ vacation. Not take ‘that’ chance. I watch people procrastinate. I watch people refuse to apologize. Refuse to forgive. I watch people ignore their families. Ignore their lives. Ignore themselves. I watch people grow easily impatient. I listen to people complain about their parents.
And I think, what if, right now, right this instant, someone took the picture of you that I now have? What if this is the last moment before your life irrevocably changes?
I think about it.
I think about it every day.
I think about my death every day.
Some will likely think this is overtly morbid. I find it inspiring. I ask myself every day, what if this is my last chance to do what is right by the people I love? By the people who love me? By what I want for myself?
What if it is?
Someday it will be.
Someday I will not have any more chances to love, to live.
For my dad, that day was October 29, 2008.
I am happy to have been happy in this picture. Of course, it haunts me, but I think it will continually inspire me. It is a constant reminder of how quickly what you assume to be an unalienable right, an universal truth, a given – can be forever taken from you. I feel privileged to have learned this life lesson even though I am acutely aware of the bottomless pain and rage by which it was taught to me.
I know my dad would love that even in his death he gave me something that I now feel is one of the greatest gifts to be given – the understanding that living means you are going to die and because of that – enjoy it. Enjoy the hell out of it. Honor it. Live it. Right now.
I miss you every day Dad.