Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.
It was Carol’s fiftieth birthday, and Jim had two plane tickets to Hawaii in his pocket. He was going to surprise her. Instead, he was killed by a drunk driver.
“How have you survived this?” I finally asked Carol, a year later.
Her eyes welled up with tears. I thought I had said the wrong thing, but she gently took my hand and said, “It’s all right; I want to tell you. The day I married Jim, I promised I would never let him leave the house in the morning without telling him I loved him. He made the same promise. It got to be a joke between us, and as babies came along, it got to be a hard promise to keep. I remember running down the driveway, saying ‘I love you’ through clenched teeth when I was mad, or driving to the office to put a note in his car. It was a funny challenge.
“We made a lot of memories trying to say “I love you” before noon every day of our married life. “The morning Jim died, he left a birthday card in the kitchen and slipped out to the car. I heard the engine starting. Oh, no, you don’t, buster, I thought. I raced out and banged on the car window until he rolled it down.
“Here on my fiftieth birthday, Mr. James E. Garret, I Carol Garret, want to go on record as saying I love you!”
“That’s how I’ve survived. Knowing that the last words I said to Jim were ‘I love you!’
Readily I admit saying “I love you” sometimes is routine. I never speak the words unless I mean them, but the feeling is not always distinctly alive with their speaking. With those I care deeply about it’s a habit to end a phone call with “I love you” or for those to be parting words. There’s nothing wrong with that and it’s a good practice. What matters is to make sure the feeling behind the words is present within them being spoken.
In my romantic relationship, I have a tendency to say “I love you” too frequently. It’s healing to admit I realize sometimes such words are spoken with the unconscious hope to hear the sentiment returned. However, the person I care about is not one who expresses their feelings as easily and frequently. Her attitude is ‘I said it yesterday. My feelings have not changed. You know how I feel about you.’ Within those tendencies we are both playing directly to our self and probably not as cognizant of our partner’s need as we could be.
So we both have a little bit of awareness to work on. Me; not to say the words so often they lose their meaning and to make sure they are rooted in feeling when spoken, Her: to express her feelings a little more openly and realize another’s need can be different from hers. Within is a compromise of sorts (a foundational part of any good relationship). For both of us, it’s always important our hearts be clearly expressed instead of just saying the words.
Within a small wake-up call alive in my head this morning it’s important to remind myself to cherish every moment with each loved person in my life. I don’t when it will be the last time I see one of them. It is not the words that matter so much as the feeling behind them. I am grateful for a new flame of awareness flickering within.
Life isn’t a choice or an obligation,
it’s a gift,
so embrace it as much as you can.
You never know how much time you have left…