Friday, August 3, 2018

We Choose To Not Take Time For Granted

This morning, I had an emotional moment. It stemmed from 2 sources. The first source, a dear friend of mine who I have known for well over a decade. She's my best critic. She reads this blog. Occasionally, she'll send me a message asking about this or that. The email I received early this morning included a bit o' feedback about my decision to retire from Independent Living Tutoring. It was positive and included the following...

"Your decision to retire is completely justifiable. I'm sensing a bit of anger towards some of the youth of today and their parents. Again, I get it. After reading your columns, and in knowing you for as long as I have, I'm overwhelmed with a sense of pride that you took a stance. 

I'm also concerned because I know how much you enjoyed working with the youth. I feel sad because it has come down to this point. And, it's a damn shame that it has.

Over the years, I remember you sharing the success stories. The excitement in your voice was immeasurable. But, it's apparent that times have changed. I can sense your frustrations through your writing and decision to retire. 

Although I hope you reconsider, I wholeheartedly understand if you don't."

The second source was Lisa.

Last week, we received news that our Aunt (on Lisa's side) was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer. She was given a year to live.

This morning, Lisa received a phone call. Our Aunt's condition has gotten progressively worse. They've now determined she has 4-6 months to live.

We both have that sinking feeling that those numbers are much too generous and her quality of life between now and then won't be the greatest.

It's a hard pill to swallow.

Since we moved into our home in July of 2012, Lisa and I have lost a considerable amount of friends and family to old age, cancer, and other illnesses.

The year 2015 was the absolute worst. We lost a total of 7 friends and family.

When Lisa informed me of the latest update this morning, I sat at my desk and cried.

Once I composed myself, I realized my frustrations and anger surrounding my decision to retire from Independent Living was so much bigger, but at the same time, more defined.

I can attribute this immediate sense of understanding to remembering what my Independent Living Instructor told me shortly after turning 18.

To back up a bit, in March when I was 17, I took a stand with some stuff that had been happening at home for many years. In short, I was removed from my home and placed in a small group home. I went to school. Had a job.

About a month before turning 18, I applied for the Extended Youth Program. The Extended Youth Program would've allowed me to live at the group home until I was 21 as long as I went to school (high school or college) and had a job.

I had both and I had every intention of going to college and maintaining a job. I was confident that my application for the Extended Youth Program would be accepted. I was on the highest level at the group home. I completed chores on time. I went above and beyond.

A week before my 18th birthday, I was called into the program director's office. She informed me that I was not accepted into the Extended Youth Program.


I explained that I had met all of the criteria and beyond. That included taking and passing the 3 month Independent Living Classes that was required of all residents. Why was I denied?

"Our small group home is primarily funded by the Catholic Church. While the staff and myself do not have any issue with alternative lifestyles, the Catholic Church does. Because they provide most of our funding, we can't risk using that funding on those with an alternative lifestyle and losing their support altogether."

I remember crying. I had worked extremely hard to meet the criteria in the short time I had been living at the small group home. I didn't have a plan B. The staff had been very supportive in my efforts and I had been under the impression that I had nothing to worry about.

Before leaving the program director's office, she let me know that I had to vacate the premises the day after my 18th birthday.

I immediately spoke to a couple of trusted staff members. They were shocked. One of the staff members called my former Independent Living Instructor, Barry, and told him what was going on.

Typically, Barry didn't get involved in matters like the one I was dealt. However, I had excelled in Barry's Independent Living Class. I listened. I learned. I shared my story. I was the oldest in his class.

A portion of graduating from his Independent Living Class was completing the Ropes Course at UNH. Not many people did. I'll be the first to admit I was scared, but I did it.

Barry was more than willing to help out. Within a few short days, Barry had located a room for me to rent in a 3 bedroom house. He knew the owner of the house. Her older daughter lived there. Her son had moved out to attend college. That was the room I'd be renting.

The day after my 18th birthday, I packed up what little I had. Barry picked me up and drove me the 2 miles to my new home. I cried during the entire process. I was still angry at the program director's excuse for denying my application for the Extended Youth Program.

I was angry because I was in that situation of having to adjust to group home life at the age of 17.  I was angry because all of that could have been avoided if my mother had chosen to tell the truth.

Above all, I was angry because I couldn't understand why, after months of busting my ass and defying the odds, I was scrambling for a place to call home the day after my 18th birthday.

Between Point A, the group home, and Point B, the room I'd be renting, Barry took me out to lunch. I will never forget his words.

"This will probably be the last time you see me. You are one of the very few students who has made an impression. I could dish out a ton of advice right now, but I'm not going to. The only stuff I want you to remember is this...

Do not waste time because today is all you have.

Always work hard because when you hit the age of 18, as you have learned, no one, regardless of their relationship with you, is responsible for supporting you.

No matter how little you have, always give a bit to others who are in need.

Regardless of what situation you're in, at the end of the day, ask yourself if you made a difference in someone else's day? Did you waste time? Did you help someone out during their time of need? Did you spend your day exerting at your full potential?"

After that afternoon lunch with Barry, I was on my own. I didn't see or hear from him again. I often wonder if he was doling out words of wisdom because something devastating was happening in his life.

Less than 2 months later, I found myself homeless and living on the streets in the dead of winter. You can read about that here.

Despite all, and since then, I have never forgotten the words that Barry burned into my brain.

I don't care how hard I've had it, what situation I've been in, or how little I've had to give, I do my best to not waste time. I do my best to embrace "face forward, onward march." I do my best to exert efforts at my full potential. I don't take time for granted.

And that has extended to this very day. 

I don't know what I would do if either Lisa or myself was diagnosed with an illness that only gave us a year to live. Or, in our Aunt's case, only a few months.

I've thought about that scenario many times when life has gotten the best of me or on occasion when Lisa and I squabble.

My first thought is, "If one of us were to be given that diagnosis, I wouldn't want any regrets."

That's why we strive to do our best every single day. Why we work as hard as we do. Why we nurture the relationships we have in our life. Why we don't stay mad at each other.

And, this is quite possibly one of the big reasons why I made the final decision to retire from Independent Living Tutoring and why I get a little angry about that.

Too many of the youth today are wasting their time. Their frame of mind brainwashes them into thinking there is always tomorrow. More than likely, they probably haven't lost a family member or close friend. They don't know what "limited time" means.

They're sitting. Indoors. On their phones. Playing games. Not making a difference. Not striving. Not putting in an effort. Not volunteering.

If you have a few minutes, take the time to explore the harmful effects of The Indoor Generation.

Meanwhile, the parents of these youth are making excuses for them. It's too hot outside. It's too cold outside. My kid can't lift 50 pounds. I don't want my kid using tools. There isn't adequate supervision. My kid doesn't have the experience.

I've. Heard. It. All.

At the end of the day, my stance remains firm. There. Is. No. Excuse.

Just recently, I read an article about several hundred teens who volunteered to repair more than 50 homes.

And let us not forget there are numerous volunteer opportunities available with the youth programs at Habitat For Humanity.

There are plenty of opportunities for kids, teens, and young adults to get outdoors and make a difference.

At several points in my 44 years of living, I could have thrown in the towel. Made excuses. Crumbled. Given up.

But, I didn't.

Neither has Lisa.

We have worked 2 full-time jobs to pay our way in this thing called life. We have volunteered our time on many occasions to assist those in need. We have sacrificed most of our free time to help others.

The list goes on.

We all have choices in our lifetime.

That includes whether we waste our time or don't waste our time.

We choose to not waste our time.

What's your choice?

No comments:

Post a Comment