May, for me is an odd month. Traditionally the time of year when the flowers appear, the languid summer evenings kick in and the sense of rebirth is strong; in all of the loveliness, there is a bittersweet pang. It’s a month of anniversaries, laced with memories of loved ones lost. The sense of time passing, like water flowing, punctuated only by the numbers on the calendar, flicking by faster each year. This year, there are some significant anniversaries. Like a birthday or a wedding date remembered, only a different type of milestone. Though none less significant.
Some losses stay with you forever; etched on your mind to be replayed in the finest of detail, decades later. Sounds and smells and flashes of memory like stills from a movie. Others linger restfully in the back of your mind as memories fade to warm tones, like an old photograph. The details become blurred, the memories less vivid, as time separates you. Only the sense of affection remains, as solid as ever.
Looking back is important. Reflecting on what we’ve had and what we now miss, and what we gained in the first place. And remembering the lives of our loved ones departed also carries with it the gentle reminder that we are ourselves only here for a brief visit.
In the day-to-day, it’s easy to get bogged down in routine. It’s simple to get sucked into a rut, to succumb to job or personal pressures, and find yourself feeling stressed, drained and exhausted. In the pursuit of the pound, the pressure to put food on the table and pay the bills, life can sometimes become a vicious circle. Get up in the morning, go to work. Skip lunch. Stay late at your desk. Feel a bit like you’re drowning. It’s also easy to start believing that you’re indispensable. But no-one is, and that’s a fact.
Make no mistake, if any of us were run over by a bus (heaven forbid!) in the morning, the world would keep turning without us. Life would go on. The most that might happen is that those following us might be mildly inconvenienced by the mess in which we’ve left our desks and our affairs, but that’s it. In time, we too will become a memory in someone’s mind, fading to sepia as the years go by.
And that’s why, on days like these when the sun is shining, while the scent of the flowers fills the air that you sometimes have to just say, right; that’s it. No work today. Instead, it’s a day to turn off the laptop, divert the calls, pack up the car and drive to the beach or the mountains and breathe and soak in the beauty of it all. And really, what’s the worst that could happen?
For when all is said and done, when you’re lying on your death bed, if you’re lucky enough to have a chance to reflect, it’s not the days sitting at your desk or behind the wheel of your car that you’ll look back on with joy in your heart. It’ll be the rare days you broke the mould, the hours you spent making memories with your dear ones. The days you kicked caution into touch, ditched the mundanity of routine and embarked on an adventure somewhere new and unknown. The time you threw yourself off the pier into a freezing cold sea, the time you climbed a mountain at night, marvelling at the moonlit lakes, the night you camped beside a lake gazing at a star-filled sky. The time you decided that going on an almighty session on a Sunday night was a fine idea, or that just staying in bed with the curtains closed on a Monday morning was the best thing you could possibly do.
The best tribute we can pay to those who have gone before us is to live life well, to the best of our ability. Milk it for all it’s worth. Don’t sweat the small stuff; but keep sight of the little things that make it worthwhile. And most of all, every once in a while, take some time out to smell the roses.
This column first appeared in The Mayo News on 9th May 2017.