His Final Gift

The old man looked up, his rheumy eyes glistening.
With labored breath, but full of passion nonetheless,
he spoke. I sat listening, watching
his wizened face crinkle in the light
filtering through his bedroom window.

“Let me relay a few things to you, if that’s OK,
so you’ll know what lies in store for you
at the end of the road.
Your body will start to shut down,
way before the very end.
Try to not mind the pain.
(Maybe that’s why God created poppies, eh?)
Don’t mind your abilities winding
down—finally only being able to lie here,
see your room, call for water.
Don’t mind the blank slate that often appears
where your memories once were.
Don’t mind the longing for the laughter,
the gaiety of earlier times.”

He paused while his past flooded in on him,
overwhelming him with pictures of his childhood,
his adult years, his long-suffering yet joyous wife,
his personal achievements, his love of being alive.

He slowly came back into the room.
As he opened his eyes and looked at me,
something inside him glowed.
Almost on fire, he continued.

“Listen. While you still can, store up moments,
like a squirrel stores up nuts for the winter.
Store up moments of deep feeling,
good or bad doesn’t matter.
Store up moments of clear vision;
of genuine questioning;
of real connection with people;
times of being completely at home
in your own life, exactly as you are.
Store them up inside, here,” he said,
patting his chest. “This is your real wealth,
more important than your bank account.”

He managed a grin, knowing he’d caught me on that one.

“I ask myself every day, ‘When was the last time
I felt completely alive, completely here,
absorbing everything?’
Don’t let the minutes turn into hours,
don’t let the hours turn into days,
before you open your heart and pray,
however you can,
to be let into the light
shining on the other side
of some veil inside you.”

His strength was being pushed to its limits now
by being the messenger for these words
which seemed to come from somewhere beyond him.
But he finally went on:

“When you are in your last bed,
in your last room,
these treasures stored up
will come back­—
not the memories, even,
but the soul of them.
They will come back and feed your soul,
nourishment you’ll need more than anything else.

Don’t wait.
Don’t procrastinate.
Don’t put off digging down into
what this day might hold for you.
Because by tomorrow, today will have
simply disappeared.
And one day there will be no tomorrow.
Don’t wait.”

Then he gently closed his eyes.

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