‘And Live This Day As If The Last’

This past year, I began to notice that I was getting a big increase in the number of floaters swimming across the field of vision in my left eye. Eventually I went to see an optometrist and he told me that the vitreous was coming detached from the retina – apparently a normal thing in someone of my age – by the time we reach 65, two thirds of us will have experienced it. But it caused me to ask myself – if you knew without a doubt that you only had two years of eyesight left, what would you do with it? I love reading, but I had to ask myself – what would you read if you knew your reading days were limited? Why would you waste time reading stuff that was trashy and second-rate? Surely you would read the really important stuff, wouldn’t you? – the stuff that has influenced the world, or the stuff that has had an impact on the spiritual lives of people down through the years.

A couple of months ago I had an email from a dear friend, and a few hours later I was standing in a hospital ward beside her. Her husband was on the bed, tubes in his throat and an oxygen mask over his face. Without warning, an aneurism had burst at the back of his brain. By great good fortune the ambulance had made it to their house quickly and then had made it to the hospital in record time. Still, two months later he is only making the very slowest of progress, with lots of challenges, and what shape the future will take for him is very much an unknown.

A couple of weeks later I got a phone call telling me that one of my best friends, a fellow priest with a wife and four small children, had been diagnosed with a very aggressive and fast-acting cancer. As I write, he is fighting for his life. This time last year, I assumed he and I would have many years yet of fulfilling friendship and of sharing in God’s work together. How quickly things can change.

The title of this post comes from a hymn by Thomas Ken that I learned as a choir boy. The verse it’s taken from goes like this:

Redeem thy misspent time that’s past,
And live this day as if the last;
Improve thy talent with due care;
For the great day thyself prepare.

The lesson is: don’t take life for granted. Don’t assume your friends will be here forever. Don’t take it for granted that you have years left with your loved ones. Don’t assume that your health will always be good. Receive every day as a gift from God and live every minute of it to the full.

I’m trying to remember that lesson.

5 thoughts on “‘And Live This Day As If The Last’

  1. I’m diabetic, so I can empathize with your concern. Despite a few scares my eyesight keeps me reading and admiring the view. Yesterday, I went self-employed and am now feeling every emotion under the sun, from ‘freedom’ to ‘oh no phil, what have you done!’ In the end what persuaded me to take the plunge was the thought I might never get another chance. Shalom, phil

  2. I have written the stanza into my hymnal (Hymnal 1982, Episcopal Church of the U.S.). I often sing this hymn (“Awake, my soul, and with the sun”) when I pray Morning Prayer, and did not know of this stanza. It is terrific, and I need this reminder.

    I rarely comment, but I regularly read your blog. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

  3. Tim Chesterton

    Thank you for commenting, Andrew. The text as I know it best is here, but I suspect there are more verses yet. Seventeenth and Eighteenth century hymns tended to have at least twenty-five verses!

  4. Tim Chesterton

    Phil, thank you for commenting – I’ve been reading and enjoying your blog for some time now. Yes – taking the chance while we can – God, please help me to remember that and do it.

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