Tell your loved ones you love them

Posted: Friday, January 16, 2009

For starters, I would like to apologize to my regular readers for last month's missing column. I missed the deadline. In my defense, I'll have to say that I was preoccupied.

My preoccupation was the extraction of a broken tooth. I'll spare the details, but will leave it to say that the surgery was without complication and I'm feeling just fine now.

I was not feeling fine for several days after the operation, however. It wasn't the physical discomfort that had me rattled. Instead, it was something I said, or didn't say, to my wife and children.

My wife took me to the surgeon's office with the kids in tow in the back seat, and dropped me off. Before we parted I gave my kids the usual mantra: "Mind your mother and do what she tells you." To my wife I said, "I'll see you in a couple of hours."

And then they were gone, off to do some shopping before coming back to pick me up.

As previously mentioned, the surgery came off without a hitch. I was put under, the deed was done, and soon thereafter I regained consciousness and began contemplating the new hole in my mouth.

That was the moment when reality finally caught up with me: I had neglected to say good-bye to my family!

There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of people who go under general anesthesia every day. Almost every day there are people who never wake from it. My last words to my kids spoke of discipline, not of love. The exchange with my wife was no more affectionate. I was mortified.

A few days afterward I talked with my wife about it. Our parting had not registered with the same gravity in her mind, and she felt that my words to the kids were just what I should have said. There was no need, after all, to alarm them.

She then went on to remind me that no one day is a sure thing, that any day we leave the house we might not return, and that our daily routines seldom include the kind of intimate exchanges that might occur between people when one of them faces a more imminent peril. She was right, of course.

In a freshman English class, long ago in my undergraduate days, my professor asked us to write a paper on being close to death. Most of the class dutifully wrote out their near death experiences. I did not.

Instead I wrote a narrative about my trip to the bank that morning. It was full of descriptive - albeit uneventful - details about the drive, the streets, and the people I interacted with along the way. This narrative filled almost half of the paper.

In the second half I revisited the narrative, and began pointing out things that could have happened during my errand: mechanical failures, drunken drivers, bank robbers, nuclear attack and other such events. I concluded that tragedy may await us at any moment and that, as such, I was not qualified to judge the moment in which I might have been closest to death.

I got an 'A' on the paper. The professor read it in class too.

My point back then, and my wife's point much more recently, are one and the same. We live in a world where danger is ever present, usually lurking beyond our ability to sense it, and yet most people routinely set any fears of what may happen aside and conduct their lives in whatever way seems best suited to the day. It is an amazing trait.

How then can we best acknowledge the sentiments we feel toward family and friends on a day-to-day basis?

While we shouldn't treat every day as if it were our last, we should at least treat the people in our lives, all of them, with a sense of importance. After all, it is the value of our relationships with others that usually defines the value of our own existence.

I am truly thankful to still be among the living. Better still, I am thankful to enjoy friends and family whose company I value, whose presence I cherish.

Happy New Year everybody, and live well.

• Michael Wittig is a stay-at-home parent and long-term Juneau resident.

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