On February 13, 1989, my father died. He had lived 61 years, 2 months and 22 days on the day of his death. On November 18, 2016, I had lived 61 years, 2 months and 22 days – that was the day of my awakening.
Reaching the same age as my father when he died did not come as a surprise. I am a “list” and “numbers” person, and I had this date circled on my calendar more than a year in advance. However, when I reached that ominous date, it impacted me in a way I did not expect. For once in my life, I didn’t think about myself first, but rather about my father.
Paul Liechty was a simple, hard-working man who provided for his family as best he could. He did not achieve great wealth – at least not in the sense it is commonly measured, but he was a man idolized and adored by his family, and respected by everyone that knew him. He struggled with his own personal demons, as we all do, but managed to hold his world together, stay married to the same woman for 39 years, and raised 5 children who have all lived productive lives, raised their own children and contributed to their various communities. By any meaningful measure, my father had a very successful life.
Yet on the day I reached his age on his final day, I realized that his last few months were probably spent thinking about the same things I was thinking about on a daily basis. Things like working and making a living while transitioning into retirement; wanting to spend more time with his children and grandchildren; travelling to those select destinations that had always intrigued him; working in his Church and community of faith; serving others; experiencing a few more adventures; and sharing life moments with dear friends. However, the sobering thought struck me that while I could still do those things, my father did not have those opportunities after reaching that age.
Suddenly, a light turned on. It struck me that every day I had after November 18, 2016, was an extra day, a day that my father never got to experience; every extra day was a gift from God that my father did not receive. Everything I could do after that day was something he didn’t have the opportunity to do. More importantly, I realized that I had a choice. I could either live each of those days in the same manner that I had lived the previous 61 years, 2 months and 22 days, or I could make each of those extra days into something special. That was an easy choice!
On the day of my awakening, I vowed to do everything possible to maximize each and every day thereafter. I recognized that I didn’t want to simply chase experiences. I wanted to make my life full and complete, and not just live in a manner to enhance small talk at cocktail parties. Rather than make a list of things to accomplish, I made a list of 5 activities that I really enjoyed, and vowed to try and do something within each area of interest on that list each year.
Since the day of my awakening, I have worked less, visited my children and grandchildren more, fallen more in love with my wife, taught small groups at our church, spoken at our grandchildren’s school, volunteered at our local food pantry and thoroughly enjoyed a family reunion. I have also begun wearing a gold chain, completed an ironman triathlon (don’t ask my time), led a trip to Israel (my wife did all the hard work), hunted moose, swam across Lake Ray Hubbard, ridden motorcycle through Glacier National Park, set a new personal speed record in downhill skiing, acted in our local community theater, bought a convertible to be my daily driver and expanded my collections of books and Presidential signatures.
Frequently, friends say something to me like “Checked another item on your bucket list, huh?” I cringe at those comments, because chasing checkmarks on a “bucket list” is not my goal. I am not checking off a finite list of things to do while waiting for my final day; rather, I like to think that on the day of my awakening, I re-started my life with an infinite list of opportunities!
Like my father, someday I will pass from this earthly life to my heavenly reward. In my first 61 years, 2 months and 22 days, I worked very hard and had a lot of success and achievements to go along with my share of disappointments and regrets; however, I am sure that I did not maximize all of those days. If I am fortunate and sentient enough to review my life on the day of my death, I hope to look back and say that, at least, I maximized my extra days.
By Heath resident and former Mayor Lorne Liechty, Founding Partner with Liechty, McGinnis, Berryman, & Bowen.
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