If Not Now, When Do We Live Fully?

“Putting your own life/needs/emotions on hold can’t be healthy for you,” I told someone yesterday, and it reminds me of how often I find myself saying that.

A reader writes that she has a sexless and even touchless marriage, but can’t support herself financially so she’s staying. A male friend of mine in his sixties can’t decide whether his current relationship is right for him, so he doesn’t decide, he just goes along. A reader in his fifties will start exploring relationships after he moves. A woman says she will feel sexier after she loses weight. A couple hasn’t had sex for years but won’t see a therapist because they think they should figure it out on their own.

I often ask people of our age who have put their own happiness and passions on hold, “If not now, when?”

If you’ve read much of my blog, you know that I lost my beloved husband, Robert Rice, to cancer last August. He was an artist, a dancer, a thinker, and a teacher to all who knew him. As long as he could stand upright, he painted in his studio every day, creating amazing art, yet always striving for that elusive best painting — maybe his next. He painted some of his most magnificent work in his last two years.

“Do you feel like you’re living on borrowed time,” I asked Robert one morning as he pulled on his paint-splattered jeans and sweater.

“I AM living on borrowed time,” he told me. Then he kissed me and rushed off to tend his garden for a couple of hours before heading to the studio.

I’m making myself cry writing this, but I admired him (and admire him still) for always going towards his goals, his love for life and creativity, and his passion for love itself, even when he knew he was dying.

We all have a death sentence, we just don’t know when it is. As we age, though, we get many reminders of our mortality, some subtle (aches in new places, parts that don’t work 100% like they used to), some not subtle at all (a cancer diagnosis, a spinal or hip fracture, parts that don’t work at all).

It seems to me that we have a responsibility to ourselves and to life itself to live fully, productively, and lovingly — as long as we can.

As I reread this post, I realize that it’s a lesson I have to relearn in my own life now as I emerge from the dark place of grief and make my way back to life, work, sunshine, and joy.

Thank you, Robert, for the lessons you taught me so well.