As in baseball, people talk about a curve ball in real life. Usually, they’re referring to situations in which they’ve guessed incorrectly about upcoming events or in which they may have been fooled by a clever opponent. For instance, a company may have priced their products based upon their competitors’ current prices only to discover that the other company had a new, less expensive product being developed. That could be regarded, by the first company, as a “curve ball” from a strategic perspective. The term suggests an element of being caught unprepared or prepared for the wrong kind of event.
Today is a curveball day – the kind of day on which I must contemplate an interesting, age-old philosophical question: If I knew the day on which I’d take my last breath, the one that was to be my last on earth, would I do something special? What, if anything, would I do differently? With whom would I spend that last day and where?
I’ve read volumes and volumes about writing techniques: where and how to find writing prompts, how important it is to write regularly – that magic 1000 words a day every day. It’s an activity both serious and worthwhile – the practice of making a regular date with ourselves to write, the importance of keeping that date just as we‘d schedule a lunch with a friend or a meeting with a colleague and would never consider canceling. One writer’s manual I consult regularly even advises, “Write as though it was your last day on earth.”
And so, today is what I’ve come to refer to as “a curveball day,” one on which I challenge the conventional wisdom delivered to writers by writers. So really, if today was my very last day on earth, honestly - would I spend any part of it writing? Probably not!
Today I’ve accomplished nothing tangible or at least, nothing that looks productive. When life throws me a “curve ball,” I must summon every ounce of stored knowledge about what it means to be a compassionate friend - supportive when I myself have a tremendous need to be both understood and supported.
A long-time friend (let’s call her Marsha) who’s ten years older than I, phoned me this morning to relay shocking news. Her husband of 35 years just died. The “just” is as in “just,” – like a few hours ago.” He didn’t fade away. He didn’t suffer. He wasn’t ill or elderly, and surely wasn’t taken from planet Earth in an accident. Nope, not at all! Literally he simply just died, dropped right there in his tracks, just stopped. Most likely his were hiking tracks, a trail in the wilderness area. My friends live in the mountains of Idaho and after a full day of hiking, a day filled with sunshine and majestic scenery, Robert packed their day packs and hiking poles in through the SUV’s hatch. “My feet hurt.” Robert said followed by a thud. And, that was it. He was gone as in dead.
Well traveled, vigorous and adventuresome, these two friends had braved remote regions of Rwanda where they observed gorillas; the Yukon Territory of Canada where they made camp among the disappearing polar bears, and to Patagonia to live among gauchos crossing mountains by day on horseback along terrifying ridges and staggering terrain. When Marsha described their approaching challenging trips, I pondered the inherent dangers. It wasn’t out of the question that Marsha and Robert were risking bear mauling, possible murder by rebels, or death resulting from a fall off horseback as in a tumble over rocky cliffs? Why at their ages, I wondered, do they pursue such craziness – the stuff I would have considered only when I was in my 20’s?
Today I’ll obsess about life’s tenuous nature as I will tomorrow and the day after and many days after that. Today, I’ll consider the extent to which we take for granted that we’ll be here next week, next month, tomorrow! We’ll take care of ourselves beginning on Monday, beginning next week or on our birthdays. Today we’re too busy. We’ll call that close friend of ours who lives overseas, the one we’ve been neglecting for months. We’ll hug our spouses, our children (grandchildren if we have any) and our parents if they’re still alive.
Tonight my husband and I are going to a movie. It’s one we’ve been meaning to see for quite some time. If our friend had known today was to be his last day on earth, I have to believe that he wouldn’t have chosen to spend it any other way!