I remember my life in my 20s and 30s when I was single. I felt invincible. Life was so carefree. I lived in the present, didn’t think much about the future, and didn’t worry about anything (except perhaps finding a wife).
No longer. I’m well into middle age now (yikes!), married, and with two daughters. Life these days feels so precarious and capricious. Every day, good people die. Bad people live. Some children are lost to illness, random accidents, and willful acts of violence. Other children lose their parents for the same reasons. People die in their beds or thousands of miles from home. Old people die too suddenly or too slowly.
Life just feels so…fragile. Even when everything is going so well, we sometimes feel like we’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Could it be a function of age and the awareness that, not only will we not live forever, but that our remaining years are fewer than those that have already passed? Maybe it’s that there is so much more at stake as we get older and have a family. Perhaps inevitability and inertia have replaced possibility and opportunity.
Our feelings of vulnerability likely stems from the realization that so much of our lives are out of our control. And that is a really uncomfortable feeling.
And it may not only be due to recognition of approaching mortality. Today’s media, particularly 24/7 cable news, has made worry, fear, anxiety, gloom, and doom profitable. When we read, watch, or listen to the news, we are bombarded by evidence of the adage, ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’ It’s difficult not to believe that we live in truly dangerous times. This, despite the fact that, thanks to all kinds of advancements and regulations, we have never lived in safer times. Yet, even the most logical of thinkers can struggle to resist the gravitational pull of perceived onslaught of injury, death, mayhem, disaster, and tragedy.
Like most parents, I feel a particularly sharp and persistent sense of vulnerability for my family. Anytime my girls are on their own, I have this nagging fear that they something bad will happen to them. When my wife and daughters are out for the day and are late returning home, awful images run through my mind. This feeling is especially acute when I leave for a work trip. The thought that I may never again see the three people I love most in the world always infiltrates my otherwise rational and generally worry-free mind.
I sometimes leave for trips early in the morning before my daughters are up, so I can’t say goodbye to them. On rare occasions, I leave after my wife and I have bickered. And then I have that thought that I might not see her again. I feel a pit in my stomach and an ache in my heart.
Because of this tenuousness of life, I don’t want to regret the last thing I say or do to my family. So, I’ve created a habit of sorts as my defense against that nagging sense of vulnerability and potential loss. Every night when I put my daughters to bed, I tell them I love them and give them a kiss. When my wife and I go to bed, I always kiss her and tell her I love her, even if I don’t necessarily feel that way at that moment. Every time we part, whether to run a few errands or on a week-long work trip, I make sure I say ‘I love you’ and kiss my wife and kids.
If my time is up, I want the last thing I say or do to show my family how I feel about them. And I want that to be their last memory of me that is etched in their hearts.
To end on a more life-affirming rather than morbid note, hopefully I’ll continue to return from my trips, my wife will come back from work, and my kids will arrive home from school for many years to come. Regardless, my ‘habit’ sure makes me feel better when that feeling of fragility sweeps over me. Perhaps you might try it too.
Here are a few tips to create your own practice for dealing with the uncertainty of life:
- Identify the people you cherish the most
- Find your own special way you want to express how much they mean to you (e.g., a hug, gesture, special words)
- Look for places in your lives in which you want to convey your feelings toward your loved ones
- Constantly remind yourself of your practice of love until it becomes habit
Featured image: Shutterstock
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