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Carpe diem


When I was in high school, I remember my grandma saying she was surprised how fast the years went by. One day she was busy and active. The next, she looked in the mirror and she was old. I nodded with the vagueness of youth.

Now that I’m closing in on retirement age myself, I can appreciate what she meant. I wonder when I will feel the urgency to pass this wisdom along to my granddaughters. I suspect they will smile and avoid my eyes. Duh, Grandma.

My mother went to live in a Memory Care unit in 2013. Although my dad still drives and lives independently, I’ve noticed a new facet to our dynamic—an emotional dependency that hints of how hard it is for him to be alone.

Life changes quickly. Our children grow up, we age, our parents grow old. We can’t stop the passage of time, but we can make the most of the time we have.

Carpe diem is a Latin idiom made famous in the Robin Williams’ film, Dead Poets Society, where he uses the phrase to urge his students to make their lives extraordinary, but the words were actually penned by Roman poet Horace in 23 BC. Generally translated as “seize the day,” the phrase has become a rallying cry to live boldly and take chances without worrying about the future.

I’m not sure that’s what Horace had in mind. Another translation of carpe diem is “to pluck or pick” the day—like ripe fruit—implying a less vigorous approach to living in the moment. I think Horace understood the uncertainty and brevity of life. His response was to live simply and enjoy the everyday pleasures of the present. I don’t think he was suggesting we ignore the future. He was cautioning us not to rely on it.

Carpe diem does not compel me to hang glide or skydive, to create an exotic bucket list, or sell all I have to sail around the world. It reminds me to stop putting things off to a tomorrow that may never come.

I recently made the effort to reconnect with high school friends I’ve lost track of over the years. The result has been far sweeter than the nostalgia that prompted the action: a celebration of prodigal daughters coming home after a long absence. There is something rich and enduring about a friendship formed early in life which closely resembles family.

Is there something—or someone—that needs your attention? Today’s the day … pluck it!