A short story by John Connolly* is about a recently widowed gentleman who visits a hotel room that he and his wife of 46 years frequented every year.
As the story goes, he falls asleep on the easy chair and wakes up to find a red suitcase that belonged to his wife. At that moment, the door unlocks and in walks the younger version of his late wife. He tries to talk to her. No good. He tries to touch her, but it’s as if he doesn’t exist.
Whether he or she is a ghost is irrelevant. As the plot unfolds, we learn that the widow is in the distant past, early in their marriage, during a time when he missed his plane and failed to meet her due to increment weather.
The powerless widow looks on as his wife gets a phone call from her husband (the widow’s younger self) and tells her that he won’t be joining her. She hangs up and goes about preparing for the vacation without him.
Meanwhile, the widow welcomes this unique opportunity to be with his wife one more time, even if she can’t see or hear him.
Connolly paints a heartwarming picture of the rest of the evening: “He sat on the bathroom floor as she bathed, his cheek against the side of the tub…He was beside her as she sat on the bed, a towel wrapped around her head, painting her toenails and laughing at some terrible comedy show, and he found himself laughing along with her. He followed the words on the page as she read a book he had given her, one he had just finished and thought she might like.”*
As I read this moving story, it struck me of just how much we take each day–and many people in our lives–for granted. Life is fragile, and its only after death that we sometimes realize what we had in the first place.
Unfortunately, to relive an entire day with one whom we have loved and lost can only happen in fiction. How many of us, however, wish to spend just one more day with a loved one, even if it is only in some far-fetched dream?
Connolly’s short story teaches us that we should enjoy each person while we can and appreciate those individuals with whom we share our lives.
That’s easier said than done. Too many of us miss out on today because we live in the past. Our regrets throw us into an endless cycle of self-pity. Some of us can hardly forgive ourselves or another, and our relationships become victims of our own myopic narcosis.
Others live too far in the future, always assuming that there are better days to come and greener grass on the other side of next week. We’re so busy looking elsewhere we miss out on what is happening around us.
I’ve heard many people tell me to enjoy my children while they are young. “Time flies,” they say. I believe them. If it weren’t for a little patience and a whole lot of attentive self-discipline, I can see just how easy it would be to miss out on the little, daily treasures that happen when I enjoy them with each passing moment.
Each day–each person–is a gift, even if it means finding something wonderful about how your wife puts on her nail polish or how your husband throws popcorn at the television during an ill-fated Bulldogs game.
“So do not worry about tomorrow,” Jesus told us in his mountaintop sermon, “for tomorrow will bring worries of its own” (Matt. 6:34). When we live in the present, we can enjoy all that God has given us. Otherwise, we miss out on life only to find ourselves wondering, “Where has time gone?” accompanied by ghosts of years past.
*John Connolly, “A Haunting,” in Haunted (New York: Ace Books, 2009), pp. 68-78.
*p. 77; edited for space.