The day had been a hectic one. Drenched in perspiration, blood pressure elevated from hours of one stressful event after another, she looked around at so much left undone. The woman thought of how anyone else’s life must be better than her own. Maybe a winning lottery ticket? She said in her frustration, “I wish. I wish I never had to work again. I wish I didn’t have to cook, to clean up messes, to work on the bills, to be piled high with responsibilities. If money were no object, I’d go somewhere no one knew me and no one was constantly calling or dropping by, wanting something. I wish my feet would never be tired again. I wish I didn’t have to live by the clock and the calendar. I wish my kids were not constantly whining about something. I wish my husband would stop irritating me with his messiness and his sports channel on tv. I wish.”
As she mused what it might be like in different circumstances, she fell asleep sitting straight up on the loveseat. She dreamed of her words coming back to her, and getting everything she’d said she wished. ONLY…
She woke up to find herself much, much older. Her surroundings weren’t familiar, but the sounds and smells and uniformed staff quickly let her know she was in some kind of healthcare facility. It was a nursing home! She looked to her right and saw a wheelchair parked beside her railed bed. And she heard her younger self saying, “I wish I never had to work again.”
An orderly pecked on her door and addressed her as “Ma’am,” announcing that it was lunch time. He raised the head of her bed and placed a tray on her bed table which contained a plate of soft, unrecognizable foods, a cup of coffee, and a bottle of nutritional supplement. Once again, she heard her younger voice saying, “I wish I didn’t have to cook.” It all seemed so surreal. She couldn’t have gotten old overnight! A few bites of the tasteless food had her wishing she were in the kitchen, baking her mother’s heirloom biscuits. The orderly came back and collected her partially-eaten meal. She reached for a tissue to wipe her bed table clean, and he said to her, “That’s ok, Ma’am. I’ll clean it up.” Again, her voice echoed, “I wish I didn’t have to clean up messes.”
The time ticked by as if it were in slow motion. A volunteer came around, delivering mail to each patient. When the small bundle of mail was carried to her bed, she fumbled through to find nothing but junk mail, sale flyers to stores she could no longer visit, and a Medicare statement. “I wish I didn’t have to work on the bills, and to be piled high with responsibilities.”
Later on, after a nurse dispensed several medications and drew some blood, she announced that today was Visitors Day. Excited for any variation in this dull day, the woman sat up a little straighter as the nurse and an attendant gingerly helped her from the bed to her wheelchair. They placed a pair of shoes on her feet which looked as if the soles had never touched the ground. “I wish my feet would never be tired again.” They wheeled her into the activity room with other patients and their visitors. As she waited nervously, the clock suddenly seemed to pick up the pace. She looked around at perfect strangers and wondered where her own family was. At ten minutes before the end of visitors’ time, one of her sons came hurrying through the door, apologizing about how busy he was and how he’d been hauling his boys around to football practice. He seemed restless, as if he were relieved that he’d gotten there almost too late. In the awkward silence, the voice of her past came back again, like a prosecutor: “If money were no object, I’d go somewhere no one knew me and no one was constantly calling or dropping by, wanting something. I wish I didn’t have to live by the clock and the calendar. I wish my kids were not constantly whining about something. I wish my husband would stop irritating me with his messiness and his sports channel on tv. I wish.”
“I haven’t seen your father at all today. I can’t imagine where he is!” she said to her son. He looked at her with tired pity in his eyes and said, “Oh Mama, you don’t remember, do you? Pops has been gone about 3 years now. Heart attack. That’s when you came here to the nursing home. He took good care of you after your stroke, clear up until the day he died. I’m so sorry.”
“I wish…I wish…I wish.” She was shaking her head and saying the words over and over, when a hand on her shoulder shook her gently out of her sleep. It was her husband, who’d gotten worried when he woke up and saw her side of the bed empty.
“What do you wish, Honey?” he asked. “What were you dreaming about?”
As her eyes adjusted in the dimly-lit living room, she was relieved to see the familiar chaos. Toys strewn on the floor. Bookbags by the door. A stack of bills. A calendar full of appointments and a long store list. As she stood to her feet (she could walk!), she welcomed a twinge of pain from having stood on them so long earlier in the day. All the things which had irritated her before were now welcome signs of life. Tears dripped off her cheeks as she whispered a prayer of repentance for having complained about her life. She truly had so much to be thankful for!
“I wish that every day of the rest of our lives can be as good as this one,” she said, taking his hand.
Do you allow the frustrations of life to rob you of your sense of gratitude? Sure, at times we all need a break, a vacation, a change of pace…but we mustn’t wish away the precious moments which are woven among the hectic ones. Life can change in the blink of an eye. Find the wonderful things about today; give thanks for and cherish them. Gladly accept the bitter just for the privilege of having the sweet, too. Remember, it’s a lot more painful to wish for yesterday than it is to wish for tomorrow. Make today count.
“Teach us to use wisely all the time we have.” (Psalm 90:12 CEV)