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:

  • Exercise daily and a proper diet are essential for getting and remaining healthy. If we want to enjoy our lives, we need to remain healthy. Without good health, the battle of life is prematurely doomed to defeat.
  • Get a hobby. By taking time to develop a hobby or special interest, we add much happiness and creativity to our lives. Try some activity that you haven't done before. Be adventuresome.
  • Keep a positive mental attitude. The way that we view life is the way that life will be for us. We determine reality. Life will be either an adventure, or it will be an endurance contest. I know people with terminal diseases who are more alive then their healthy counterparts. We mistakenly think that forces outside of our control determine our lives. If we maintain a positive mental attitude about life, life will be positive despite what comes to us from the outside.
  • Help someone every day. If we want our lives to be enriched, then we must enrich the lives of others. By doing unto others, we are enriched and so are they. Everybody wins when we reach out to help someone. A genuine, warm smile might be all another may need to get through the struggle of the day. In other cases, we might give of time or money to help someone over a huddle of life. Regardless of how you help others, make reaching out to them a part of our living.

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."