A favorite saying of my mother: “You only go ’round this life once.”
Drilled into my head since I was a boy. It was a warning, though one I never truly heeded because it was only partially understood. “You only go ’round this life once” was sort of like my father’s “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” Catchy, but vague.
I turned 41 this summer, which is just enough past forty to get me worrying. Not that I fret too much about the grinding of the wheels of time. Forty doesn’t mean as much as it used to. In fact, I’ve read that forty is the new thirty. That’s supposed to make me feel better, I suppose. And it does. But still…
It’s fair to say that forty can be considered a good halfway point in most people’s lives. That’s about the point where a lot of us look back over our shoulders and realize there’s a whole lot behind us, then look ahead and swear we can see a speck of something on the horizon. And though death’s great sting isn’t as great as I once thought it to be, I still feel like there’s a lot left for me to do.
And lately I’ve come to realize the gravity of the fact I only go ’round this life once. Time, now, is the issue. Much more now than it’s ever been.
But it’s not just the time I have left to do things I’ve always wanted to do, it’s the time I have left to fix the things I’ve broken. I’ve broken a lot of things in my life. Done things I shouldn’t, said things I shouldn’t. I look back on a lot of my past not in reverie, but in regret. So much so that I now find myself at this magical midpoint thinking a do-over of my first forty years would be nice.
I think about all the time I’ve wasted. Not just wasted by watching television or daydreaming on the front porch, but wasted by worry and fear. Often I realize I have lived vast parcels of my life in reverse and upside down—the things that really should have bothered me never did, and the things that really bothered me were things that didn’t shouldn’t have bothered me at all.
I still act like this. A lot.
But now I’m beginning to realize I shouldn’t, that life is too short and too precious to be mindful of tiny irritations and bothersome fears. The first half of one’s life is viewed through the lens of ourselves—our needs, our wants, our desires. The second half is viewed through the lens of eternity. That’s when we begin to see that as big as this world can seem, it’s really the smallest thing we will ever experience.
I wish I could have figured all of this out earlier. Time and experience have a way of teaching us what we’ve always ignored, though. I spend a lot of my day with people who say if there was a God, He would do something about all of the pain in the world. I tell them I stumble over that sometimes too, but that I also understand if it weren’t for the pains in my own life, I wouldn’t know anything.
That part, at least, I’ve gotten right.
But there is much I haven’t.
It seems a bit pessimistic to be looking ahead at my coming years with the express purpose not to screw them up as badly as I managed the previous ones. That’s what I’m going to do, though. And I’m going to try and love more and worry less. I’m going to try to have faith instead of fear. And I’m going to make the attempt to smile as much in the pain as in the happiness.
Because my mother was right, you only go ’round this life once.
But if you do it right, once is all you’ll need.