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Getting Real with Amy Larson

Get a life.

Hmmm. How often have we heard that one, or even told it to someone in jest, or in a not-so-jesty way? Guilty as charged over here.

Been thinking a lot about life lately; how it almost seems easier to lose your life than to get one, or to fully appreciate the one we’ve got, and those lives around us that we’ve been given.

Twelve years ago, I ran a little daycare in my home. I was separated from my then-husband, had three children of my own, and was panicked and pre-occupied about money and the future nine-tenths of the time. Two of my daycare kids, Taylor and Rebecca, were siblings. Their mother always paid on time, often brought me gifts, and was a dear friend. Taylor and Rebecca were the type of well-adjusted, well-loved kids that just blended right in with any group. They rarely had issues, and my children enjoyed being around them. Rebecca, or Becca, was only two when she came into my home. I watched the children for about a year, then reconciled with my husband and stopped doing daycare.

I didn’t see the kids or their mother for a long time. On occasion I’d run into them at a random yard sale or at the grocery store. Facebook changed that for me, though. (Thank you, Facebook.) When I thought about my friend the daycare mom, I looked her up and got current on what she’d been up to. Had I not done that, I might have never known what became of that family. Only a month or so after I’d ‘friended’ this lady, the urgent, all in capital letters message came onto our pages, “PLEASE PRAY FOR MY CHILDREN! THEY’VE BEEN IN A TERRIBLE CAR ACCIDENT!”

That was the beginning of a saga that was heart-breaking to follow, but I felt I had to. Both children had brain injuries; only one lived. We lost Becca. Taylor lived, but it was a pure miracle. He is still recovering from his brain trauma.

I wondered why the family waited for four months before they had her Celebration of Life service. I understood when I attended; it was Rebecca’s fifteenth birthday. People told stories of what a loving person Becca was; how she really seemed to care and was always there for friends and family. They told us how she didn’t like to go too far from her mother throughout her life; it was almost as if she knew that their time together would be shortened. Her brother stood and shared that he never got to tell his sister how incredible she was, and that if there was anything he’d learned over the past few months, it was this: Tell the people in your life that you love them every day, because you may not get that second chance.

I rewound, back to the days when I combed Becca’s hair after a nap, or fed her mac and cheese for lunch, or helped her with her potty training. I’m sure, in my daily stress, that I wasn’t always as patient as I could have been. She was a cute little girl; there was nothing difficult about watching either Becca or her brother. Had I known that the same curly-headed little child that I held sometimes, or whose hair I combed, or whose tummy I fed would wind up dying in a car accident at the tender age of fourteen, almost fifteen….I can tell you I’d have done things very differently.

I’d have given more hugs. I’d have been more deliberate in the way I told her I approved of her, in my praise of her. I’d have paid more attention when she was trying to tell me something in her cute two-year-old voice. I’d have taken more time, had I only known.

Becca’s mother had us all take a Chinese paper lantern home, and at 9:45 pm we were to light them and release them, in honor of Becca’s favorite movie scene in Disney’s Tangled. When we did this, we saw several other lanterns from all parts of the valley joining ours in the sky. I was sorry that my children, who were at a sports game, were not there to see that. When my son came home, I told him all about it. He stepped outside to see if maybe, just maybe, he’d get another chance to see a lantern. I doubted it; it was well past the appointed time. We stood there for a moment, looking. And then it happened.

One lone lantern came from seemingly out of nowhere, flying low, and lingered right over our house for the longest time before drifting away to join the rest somewhere. It was uncanny how long it stayed right there, as if just for us. It might sound funny, but I almost felt like that was a gift from my Becca…or maybe more like a message.

Stay. Linger. Take your time. Enjoy things before they burn out and float away.

Getting a life.

It might be easier than we think, when we realize just how easy it is to lose one. If we viewed a person as if it were their last day with us, how would we treat them? Would we slow down? Would we linger? Would we make eye contact for longer, touch more, or be more tender?

I know I would be.

In the movie and book, “Tuesdays With Morrie,” Morrie Schwartz, a real-life character says, “When you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” He also said that the Buddhists believe in the little bird on our shoulder. We are supposed to ask our little bird, “Is today the day?”

Keeping that thought in mind might sound morbid, but it might also save us from a whole lot of regret.

To my little Becca: I wished I’d taken more time. Thank you for the lessons you are teaching me. Thank you for helping me to change the way I see others. During your life celebration, a letter was read that your brother had found in your notebook. You said in it that you wanted to change the world for the better; that you wanted make a difference in the world.

You have, Becca, you have. Thanks for being our lantern.