An old man lay in a hospital bed, on the edge of his life. He was neither wealthy nor famous, but like all of us, did have regrets. He had a story to tell.
The night nurse was making her rounds, and stopped in his room to check up on him. “Is everything okay in here?” she asked. “I’m about as good as can be expected,” the man laughed hoarsely. “Cancer tends to do that.” She shot him a sympathetic but almost chastising look. “Do you have to joke about it?” He nodded slightly. “If I didn’t make light of it, it would have already killed me.” The nurse smiled and walked towards the door, to return to her station, until the man stopped her. “Do you have time for a quick story?” he asked. “I’ve got some things to get off my chest.” She nodded and returned to his bedside as she took a seat in the chair near the window.
“I grew up in a small town, about an hour from here. I lived there all my life, until I had to be moved to this room. Some people called it an ideal life, since it was quiet and very little went on. For me, that was the exact reason it was not ideal. I wanted adventure, I wanted to travel the world, I wanted to be an artist. But my parents were old fashioned, and they wanted me to help with the family business and stay in the community. Community in that one horse town and status were important to them for some reason. They owned a small goods store that my father had inherited from his father, and they wanted to keep it up and running. To appease my parents, I stayed, thinking it would just help me pay my way through the “silly artsy-fartsy” school my they wouldn’t pay for since they did not consider art a real job. I was wrong.
When I was 22, I met the woman that was to be my wife. She grew up in a neighboring small town, but she had dreams of getting out. She was beautiful, and so full of life, dreams, aspirations. Her laugh was infectious. At this point, I had been working in that damned store for 4 years. Times were hard on the store, and saving up to move away and attend school was harder than I expected. I had pretty much given up on art college, and I let my aspiration go out the window. A year later, we were married, and we bought a small place of our own. She still wanted, and deserved to leave the small area. But I had already become complacent and bitter. Instead of holding on to my dream, I let the past change me. I was angry that I had already wasted so much time on the store, in that town. Instead of working to change that slowly, and holding on to faith, and loving her like I should have, I drove her away. I didn’t see any point in trying to leave, and the anger only drove us apart. She left me 4 years later and took her light with her.
After that, I could have turned it around, but there was no point. The one good thing I had, I lost, and I had to live with the fact that I had tarnished her optimistic smile and bright eyes. This did not motivate me to do any better, and before I knew it the store was in the tubes. I started drinking, and cared less and less about my future. I sold the store building and went to work as a cashier at a nearby supermarket. It wasn’t long until my drinking habit made me lose my job, and throughout my life I bounced from job to job, just to survive, not to fulfill any goals.
We all are alive, but very few of us actually live. I should have stood up to my parents when I was young and done everything I could to get a better job somewhere else if they would not have listened. I should have held on to my dreams and realized that it wasn’t too late, and I should not have taken it out on the one person that was supporting me. I should not have given up and drank my life away in that small house in that same town. I should have held on to hope, but instead I became a complacent shell of a man.”
The nurse listened intently, with sadness in her eyes. “I am so sorry. What’s worse, you have no time to fix it now.” The man waved his hand. “Don’t feel sorry for me. Just take heed to my words. It’s easy for me to accept death, because I was dead the whole time.”