A salesman came to the door yesterday.I was drinking black coffee in the living room when I heard the knock. We don’t get many uninvited callers on our long dead-end street, which works out well for me.I slowly set down my old white porcelain mug and rose from my writing perch on the dark brown leather sofa.Click went the lock. We have no peephole so the next bit would have to be a surprise.There he stood, in a smart black suit, attaché case in his left hand, right hand cupped to his mouth.Think he was checking the state of his breath.
“Hello,” I said.
“Good afternoon,” he replied, quickly lowering his hand.
“My name is Xavier Mulligan, may I please have a moment of your time to present a most irresistible opportunity?”
“How irresistible?” I asked, wreaking of doubt.
“Exceedingly irresistible sir, I assure you.Give me but two minutes to introduce the offer and if by that time you are not interested I will vacate directly,”he said with unwavering confidence.
“Ah, okay.” I reluctantly mumbled.
“May I come in?”
“I suppose,” I said.My hesitation painting my face into a near grimace.Though truth be told, I was a tad intrigued.
“Thank you kindly,” he said accepting the opening door with a quick step forward and then there we were in my living room.My cooling coffee cup reminding me of traditional hosting duties.
“And how would you like to be called?”
“Excuse me?” I said.
“Your name?” He nodded.
“Oh, Landon, Landon Cooper,” I said.Then with the slightest of disarmed stutters, “Would you like a cup of coffee Mr…?”
“Please, call me Xavier,” he offered politely.
I almost laughed thinking that calling him “Xavier” seemed a thousand times more formal than using any surname I’d ever heard.
“Alright, coffee then Xavier?”
“No thank you, but I would love a spot of tea if you happen to have the leaf in-house.”
“I do,” I said fighting the involuntary raise of my eyebrow.“Will Earl Grey do?”
“Oh yes, that would be splendid,” he said, running his free hand through his silvering dark hair.
I realized that by asking for tea, he had cleverly extended the original terms of his ‘two-minute pitch cap.’What had I gotten myself into?
As I microwaved the water for his “spot of Tea” I found myself thinking, “spot of tea?”“Did this guy come to the neighborhood in a Tardis?”My next thought was, “This fucker may be completely psycho and looking to eat my liver with those beans and a fine Chianti.”
I mentally checked in with the baseball bat in the hall closet, then the shotgun in the laundry room; took a breath, set the Earl Grey tea bag in the steaming mug and returned to the living room in the full bloom of questioning my sanity for letting this tea drinking stranger into my home.
“Thank you, sir,” he said, taking the mug and bouncing the bag to encourage the darkening of its brew.
“Again I don’t want to waste your time, so I’ll get right to it.” He said, adopting a serious tone and looking me straight in the eye.
“I’m in the business of unique opportunity.”He began, “extremely rare opportunity actually.”He paused, sipping his tea, eyeing me with a calm, confident smile.
“I see,” I said.“And what sort of opportunity are we talking about?” I asked with a hint of polite aggression.
“I’m in the business of second chances,” he offered, taking another sip of tea.
I stared at him.No words formed.
“Yes, it is an unusual product, to be certain.”He offered,“In short supply and little known on the open market.”
My blank stare slowly transformed into an open-mouthed “huh?”
“Mr. Cooper, if you had it to do all over again would you?”He asked.
“Do what all over again?”I’m sure my tone of voice unveiled the blend of curiosity, incredulity, and consternation coursing through my mind.A mind that had minutes before been at relative peace.Which for me is saying something.
“It, all of it, your life!” He stated matter of factly.
“Okay, what the hell,” Was all I could come up with.
He stared into my eyes, took a long sip from his mug then spoke.“I’m am authorized to offer you a do-over; a second go at this very life you are living right now.
“How…what the…how the hell would that work?” I sputtered.
“Very simply actually.You sign a few documents acknowledging your desire to indeed “Do it all over again” then poof, off you go to take a second run at this one life.”
I gaped at him in total disbelief, absent-mindedly spilling a bit of black coffee into my lap.
“Poof!” I stammered.“What exactly do you mean by poof?”
“I mean you would be born again into this world to have another go.Don’t you think it would be amazing to have a second chance at a lifetime here on earth?Think of all the things you could do, create, accomplish with a second chance!”He settled back on the sofa opposite me and waited, unblinking.
“What about this life?” I thought to myself.“I love this life.”I took a gulp of lukewarm coffee which suddenly seem not nearly strong enough.
“Forgive the language Xavier, but what the fuck are you talking about?How the hell would that work and why should it?More importantly, why have I of all people been selected for this, and I quote ‘unique opportunity’?” My voice rising to a crescendo of insolence by the end of the sentence.
“You’ve earned it,” he offered politely.“I understand that this is, well, odd at the very least but I assure you this opportunity is most legitimate.Please take a moment to sit with it.May I refill my tea?The kitchen is just through there yes?”
I nodded.Xavier rose and headed toward the kitchen; the clip-clop of his dress shoes on the hardwoods gradually fading.I fidgeted on the couch, uneasy, certain that I was either dreaming, crazy, or had accidentally made myself an unbelievably strong midday Irish coffee.Not my habit.
“As a rule, there are knives in a kitchen,” I thought.But if he came here for that purpose, he’d most likely have everything he needed for the job in that attaché case of his.I accepted the likelihood that he was not going to the kitchen for a knife and turned my thoughts the far more ridiculous reason for his visit, offering me a do-over!
Was he offering me a second chance at life because I’d fumbled this one?Was the offer a reward, an act of charity, or on a more sinister note, was it a punishment?Was it a test?I took quick synaptic inventory of my many years and saw ample flashes of regret.Yes, I found things I would have done differently if I had them to do over again.I also found moments, hours, years that I would not trade for all the Earl Grey in China or anywhere else.I sipped the now cold coffee.
There are a million ways to do life; to lose and to win, to surrender and just let it happen. There are moments of triumph and moments of regret.There are memories to wish away, others to celebrate. Perhaps, most importantly all those instances are available to make peace with.Though I’m sure these thoughts have lived in my subconscious every day, I realized in that instant that I’m not proud of everything I’ve done, neither am I ashamed of the life I’ve chosen.Are we here to be perfect, or to learn, and grow?And there was the answer.Crashing out of my flashback trance, I released a deep sigh.Mr. Xavier Mulligan returned with his tea, smiling.
“So,” he said, “What’s the verdict?”
“Hmm, Mr. Mulligan?”
“Please, call me Xavier.” He corrected
“Oh right, Xavier, I’m, ah, I’m going to have to say no to your kind offer,”I said with a new found smile.
“Really,” he said taking a sip of what seemed from the copious amount of steam to be scalding hot tea, without wincing.
“Yes,” I said.“I’m grateful for the gesture, and I do believe this is a most rare opportunity indeed.That said, I also realize that the very trip I’m engaged in at this moment is also a rare opportunity. An opportunity to experience my ‘one’ life, complete with all its gifts, and its share of misfortune; experiences which I’m not likely to recapture should I abandon it now.”I said raising my mug to swill the last bit of room temperature clarity.
“I see,” he said.“Understood, understood.Well then, I suppose it is time for me to take my leave as we have no further business here.Before I go, are you absolutely sure of your choice?”He asked.
“Yes, I am,” I said.Then in what appeared to be a choreographed moment we rose simultaneously, his steaming cup still holding court on its coaster.He lifted his attaché, gave a slight bow, and strode toward the front door.I followed and reached to open it as he buttoned his coat.
“Thank you for your time Mr. Cooper, I’m sorry to have wasted it,” He said.
“Not at all Mr. Mulligan, if fact it seems you’ve given me a gift.”I offered.
“Have I?” He smiled.“Excellent!”He said crossing the threshold and making his way down the front steps into the brilliant sunlight of the late spring day.
Apologies. I’m guessing I haven’t offered enough of them in my lifetime. Neither I’m sure, have I received some that might have been deserved, but that bit is beyond my control. “Deserve’s got nothing to do with,” or so I’ve heard Clint Eastwood say, and so I’ll leave that be for now.Apologizing is the most potent acts of healing in the human relational inventory.A heartfelt apology can repair seemingly permanent damage. The act can even spark the rebuilding of ostensibly terminal relationships.Apologizing is a two-way wonder drug.So why is it that when it’s needed most this seemingly simple choice can appear so utterly unavailable to us?
Hello Ego!The pride-o-meter sits pinned at eleven.“Sorry?” I spit.“Ha, I’m not sorry, I’m fucking pissed!”Sound familiar?“It’s they, not I who should be asking for forgiveness.”Here I am once again, facing a barricade I’ve built obstructing the pathway to reconciliation and so created the need for the other person’s permission to move forward.Waiting for an apology is just that, waiting.Waiting in lieu of acting, of taking the chance, of creating an opportunity for resolution.
Pride is a fickle mistress.It can afford us the intense bravado needed to inflate our personal myth of invincibility, which in a fight or flight situation can be useful.However, when the peak intensity of such an engagement subsides, we are left with the stance we took based on pride, not on love.“Love,” where did that come from?Hmmm, from the idea that if we truly want peace, we have to choose it.Peace is my favorite, but clearly not a universal choice for ‘state of being.’Have you ever apologized to someone only to find that the words had no effect on them?Come to understand that your act of contrition bore no fruit in your effort to create healing?Me too!Some people thrive on conflict, and that is either a nature, nurture or both thing, over which we have no power other than a heartfelt, “ugh!”
Sometimes offering an apology is not a practical option.In such downward spiraling relationships, we may find the right answer to be ‘cut and run.’Sometimes we have to let things go.The real challenge lies in determining, and owning the difference between circumstances beyond our control, i.e., dealing with an ‘unreasonable’ person, and situations in which we have been party to the wrongs that might well be righted by a diminishment of our own ego posturing.Difficult yes, but not insurmountable. It is painful to think about lost friendships or loves that might have been saved by an apology. Could they still be?
These days I find myself apologizing rather frequently; though I’m sure I still miss some prime opportunities to take responsibility. I say “I’m sorry” to my sons when I’ve wrapped up a solid performance of being less than the father I’d like to be. I can see in their eyes that it lands, and moves them. Perhaps, more importantly, it may someday help them with the task of owing their own spells of less than stellar behavior. Hopefully, it will instill in them the notion that choosing to initiate the making of amends is not an act of weakness. Rather, it is an act of strength, or so I believe, survivable and often enriching.
Heartfelt apologies spring from a bottomless well within us. They are an infinitely renewable resource. The courage to make the first move of reparations may be buried deep. At times it may seem utterly impossible to grasp. Even so, I believe it is always worth the reach.
What would I do if I learned that today was my last day on earth? Hmmm, if we asked a random group of people that question we’ed get a spectrum of answers. Would the spectrum be narrow, the answers similar, or would they be divergent, deeply personal and unlikely to overlap? Some might say; “I’d want to be with my family.” Others might choose to find a pound of cocaine and dance naked in a rainstorm of hookers. Might some go skydiving? Or Google the one love that got away and purchase a plane ticket, or find a church and pray until their tongue cramped? Perhaps some would hide in bed, crying away their last hours.
I imagine the answers might share some commonalities if the interviewees found themselves in a similar place on the arcs of their lives. If not, the answers could be strewn all over the mental universe. I, for example, am a parent, and so would hope that some part of that ‘last day’ could be spent with the children whom I love and cherish more than anything in this world. What if that weren’t possible. What if I learned at 6am that my life would end at midnight and both of my sons were nowhere to be found? Maybe they’d be hiking some distant mountain range, or off on a hitchhiking adventure across Canada…whatever. The point here being, the desired spend of my last few hours would not be attainable. Were that the case I would have to find another way to make the most of my last hours as an earthling. I could spend my last day lamenting this misfortune, or? What would you do?
Perhaps there’s a better question to ask. Maybe we’ed be better served by taking a less conventional approach, asking a different question than “What would I do if it was my last day on earth?” The query, “what I’d do” is powerful, yet impractical. If I’m asking to learn anything other than how I’d choose to use a minuscule number of hours that, statistically speaking, I’m unlikely to be presented with, it has little value. This is because the probability of finding ourselves in such a situation is infinitesimally low.
Having a plan is excellent. Carrying jumper cables in the trunk for example, or hiding a key to the front door under a rock in the yard are precautions likely to at some point take center stage under the “usefulness spotlight.” These are premeditated solutions to scenarios we are likely to face. I was not a Boy Scout, but I have borrowed, and benefitted from the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared.”
It dawned on me today while out mountain biking in the color-rich Autumn woods, that I’d be better served if I knew the answer not to “What would I do if this was my last day on earth,” But HOW I would do it! How would I approach it…living my last day? What attitude would I take? The “how“ can be controlled, focused, owned. The “what” cannot. Perhaps you’ve already been down this philosophical road. For me, it’s a new perspective. I hadn’t spent time comparing the value of the endless passing days of my long-ass life to the single day that I knew would be my last. “How” would I approach it? Suddenly I felt in complete control of my last day on earth! That, I could choose without the need for permission or the hope of right timing.
In my case pondering this ‘How’ made the lingering color of the late Autumn woods brighter to my eye. The definition of things sharpened. If I knew this was my last look at the majesty of life, I would look closer, deeper. This perspective caused my energy to swell dramatically. I took the jumps higher, the hills faster. The strength, love, the gratitude within me grew noticeably, all because of a thought. I dare say I had a bit of a Grinch-like moment of realization, and everything in the world was better, more meaningful and more of a gift than it had been in the moments before.
The expression “live every day as though it were you last” therefore may be commonly misconstrued, or at least in my case misapplied. It tends to call up the ‘What’ when in fact it’s the ‘How to accept/approach it’ that may be the true gift hidden in that cat-poster quote. On any day leading up to my last the answer to the question “How” I would choose to live my last day on earth is a gift, a revelation, a tool that can be used to make every day more than it otherwise might have been. So Namaste friends, Nama-f’ing-ste.
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He reached into his lab coat and produced a flask and two plastic shot glasses, “Cheers!”
“Ha, we’re celebrating my terminal diagnosis?” I said with a hastily shaken tone cocktail of irony, indignation and false bravery.
“We all have a terminal diagnosis, my friend. I love you, and this shot is to celebrate your life. The life behind you, that left before you, and most importantly this moment, when we here together face the inevitable; the heartache, the confusion, the freedom, and the truth, that we all try so desperately to ignore.”
I found myself smiling in spite of the dour news, “I love you, man.”
Doctor James had been my college roommate freshman year, and my best friend for the last thirty years of my now seemingly bookended life. Together we had surfed the waves off the Santa Barbara coast, chased the same woman at parties and fought over the outcome, ridden a motorcycle through the courtyard of a dormitory with frantic RAs chasing us. This was the man who knew me better than anyone on the planet. He had supported me every step of the way. He knew when to say “I’m sorry,” and he knew how to forgive. He was the perfect person the usher me onto the crowded tarmac for those awaiting passage to the hereafter.
“So by ‘no’ you mean there’s no cure?” I asked.
He looked me in the eye, raised his plastic shot glass to offer a toast, I obliged with a shaky reciprocal gesture.
“There is only one cure for life, and as mortals, we will all one day be cured. May you rock the fuck out of the days, months, or years left to you. May you know that I love you like a brother with all my heart and will ride this last wave with you wherever it may take us.” He held his glass and my gaze.
Damn him; the fucking bitch made me tear up. I killed the shot and immediately put my cup out for a second.
“How long?” I asked.
“I don’t fucking know…six months, six years, it’s so fucking random. Let’s see, no sugar diets, kale, and on the uh-oh side, hidden guilt, self-hatred, or an emerging heretofore unseen badass extreme will to live. I could tell you some number, but then that number enters your reality and who the fuck am I to shape your perspective on something like this? I’m just a doctor.” James laughed as he filled our little plastic shot cups.
“Let’s go to the mountains and hike.” He said. “I’ll clear my schedule; we’ll go to my place in the Sierras, spend a couple of days and let this percolate.”
“Are you coming on to me?” My super thin, false bravado wavering.
“Ha, fuck you, I’ll bring coffee, be ready by 8 am.” Doctor J. hissed with a shit-eating grin.
“Thanks?” I had to laugh. Hiking would be good!
Have thoughts on the subject? Please comment. Life is bigger and better with shared experience!