One hot summer's day in 1949, I was spending time talking with my best adult friend, Mr. Lee. Every child should have someone like him. He would mesmerize me with stories about growing up in China, and his insights about life made him an invaluable teacher and friend. On that sweltering south Jersey summer day, I went over to his home to talk. He was cutting his lawn with a push-mower. After volunteering to empty the grass-catcher, he and I sat down and cooled off with a glass of lemonade. Fifty years ago, air-conditioning and gas-powered mowers were mere dreams of a kinder and gentler summer. From our shaded sanctuary under a large, sun-faded umbrella, we chatted and complained about the weather. From that location, we could see other neighbors in their backyards also attempting to avoid the heat of their homes.
Between sips of lemonade, I commented about each of the neighbors as they appeared in our shady Merchantville, NJ periphery. I recall comparing Mr. Lee to one of the other retired neighbors. They were both approximately the same age, but they acted very differently. Mr. Lee was active and always doing something while the other guy just sat around. I mused over the differences between the two of them-one was full of life and to the other life seemed like a burden.
Without commenting on the other neighbor, Mr. Lee leaned toward me pointing at me with his finger-gnarled with age and hard work. I knew that he was about to make a point that shouldn't go unheeded. "Allen, remember this: Live while dying rather than die while living." Surely, Mr. Lee knew that I would not assimilate his admonition without his parsing it for my youthful ears. As the sun started to retreat having done most of its damage, Mr. Lee told me about how differently people handle life. Some people live their lives to the fullest even though the living process will lead to death. Others waste their lives complaining and not appreciating the blessings of life. The result is that they kill the time of their lives and are dead to living. He said that we are all in the process of dying. However, some truly live during this process.
In the years since that hot summer day of my youth, I have thought about how different people deal with life. Here are some suggestions for putting Mr. Lee's adage into practice:
The central truth of life is that we are all going to die. Life isn't a dress rehearsal. None of us have the opportunity to do retakes. However, we can control how we live. By following these suggestions, you will be able to get the most out of the time given to you. It was the summer of '49 when Mr. Lee told me, "Allen, remember this: Live while dying rather than die while living."