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Members of the group meandered into the church hall. Their steps were not reluctant so much as they were deliberate with the slowness that comes with familiarity and with the desire to make each moment last. We were eager to be with the others, to enjoy their presence, to laugh, perhaps to cry together.
Individually, we are members of diverse denominations. In community, we embrace one faith, one baptism, one God. There is purpose to our monthly meeting. It is to share our faith life, to comment upon our spiritual journeys, to recognize and celebrate the moments when we knew God was near as well as those when we felt as though we were far away from God and hurting.
As may be true of all serious encounters, ours began with frivolity. We joked with one another, teasing as we noted our human foibles. No harm was intended; no hurt was taken. There was simply the deepening of mutual understanding, compassion and love.
Soon, we settled in. The busyness of the day melted into the business of our gathering. Silence reigned. In the quiet, God’s presence was felt. Upon hearing of the terminal illness an acquaintance was suffering, one member spoke. His words still ring in my being. Meaningful in themselves, they were more compelling because he is, by his own admission, not a man who deals well with trivial conversation. His life experience has led him into the depths of humanity. He can no longer live on the surface, conversing about cabbages and kings.
He posed a question for the group to ponder. It came from some reading he had done, reading that intrigued him and caused him to wonder about his own convictions and to seek the discernment of the group. His question was: “What would you do if you knew you had only one month to live?”
For a few moments, no one spoke. The question was unsettling and provocative. It caused us to stop and think about our lives as we were living them, right now. I could almost see the priority list tumbling down, undergoing rearrangement, and resuming the tumbling. I could envision bucket lists being made and remade. In fact, the very meeting itself underwent radical transformation. Without discussion or dismay, we immediately shifted gears, changed our format, and spent our allotted time together in personal and communal examination of the question and our responses to it.
At first, questions abounded. What would we do differently? Would we change our schedules, choices, lives? How would we pray? For what would we pray? What would we add to our lives? What we would subtract from them? Tumbling close behind the queries, a variety of responses emerged.
Some stated they’d look closely at who they were and what they were doing to make positive changes. When asked what those might be, the answers came more slowly.
“Of course, I’d visit my children and grandchildren, my family and friends. I’d try to grow closer to God and pray harder and more diligently. I’d be more attentive to my spouse and those who are close to me. I’d visit the people I’ve always intended to see but rarely do. I’d do things for my neighbors that I’ve put off doing.”
The bucket list was overturned with one simple remark.
“In the face of death, some saints have said they’d do what they always do.”
A second silence descended. The challenge of the statement hit home. Is it not true that our life mission is to follow in the way of divinity everyday? Why are we waiting for a month’s notice? Why are we concentrating on “things” we should do, must do, ought to do? Is it a fallacy to believe that we can do nothing to make God love us more and nothing to make God love us less?
Out thoughts deepened as we sat together. We began to contemplate the meaning of our actions, the attitude with which we performed them. We came closer and closer to understanding that life truncated into 30 days was nothing more and nothing less than life lived for 330 days or 36,500. We concluded that focus was needed. We need to focus on and intensify our relationships with God and others. We need to pay attention, to pay heed, to the unstated and understated messages we receive daily. We need to look at each other, to really see and hear each other.
This lifestyle does not require a handbook, a manual to tell us how to accomplish the feat before us. It is the sacrament of the present moment, the sacrament of presence in the moment. It is our scriptural command, God’s profound desire for us, “to love our neighbor as ourself.”
The question originally posed incorporated that divine desire. The questioner had already begun the process as he presented the challenge to the group. He had planted the question deep into his soul and spirit, integrated it into his physical being. He was already asking himself, “Who am I? Who is God in my life? How am I responding to that relationship in and with others?”
He was not looking for affirmation or critique from us. He was talking to himself with us so that we could talk to ourselves with him. He was examining aloud his consciousness of God so that we, in our silence, could hear God’s call to all humanity.
None of us had the “correct answer.” All of us had accurate responses. We were in the same boat together, wondering, pondering, contemplating, promising to be the people God has called us to be. We knew clearly that we’d not be perfect in the process, but we’d be perfected in it. We knew that the power of living wholly would allow us to discover that we are holy. We knew this had nothing to do with human judgment or comparison. It is all about divine justice and compassion.
When I returned home, I Googled the words “one month to live.” I learned about the site and the best-seller book promoting the challenge to live for thirty days as if they were the last ones of your life. To do so, it promises, will be to live without regrets.
Each month of every year, we have met together for 90 minutes, a multiple of the designated 30. We have shared deeply of our personal convictions and proffered conversion. We have no regrets. Try it. I think you’ll not regret it, either.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of “Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives” [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Community Hospital, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. Reach her at email@example.com.