Life Is Short – A Re-Post

In Life Is Short, Pep Talks by David49 Comments

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Several years ago this post (below) was deeply significant to me. It was an act of nailing my colours to the mast, and not long after I posted it, I began a trip that would change my life forever – selling most of what I owned, putting the rest into a tired Land Rover Defender, and setting off to live nomadically around the continent. A few months into that trip I took a detour to Italy, fell off a wall and shattered both my feet. Today I’m a week into yet another surgery to deal with the aftermath of that incident. This time they chiseled a piece of my hip off and put it into my ankle. It’s been a rough week. I needed to hear these words myself, and since I’m having a tough time writing right now, I thought I’d re-post this for those that haven’t read it, and offer a reminder to those that have. Life is short and beautiful, and the more intentionally we engage it with the deepest parts of us, the more of it we’ll truly live. Don’t you dare waste it. The images above are from the safari Cynthia and I did with my mother this January, a bucket list for all three of us.

Life Is Short. Nov.16, 2010

I had breakfast with a close friend of mine yesterday and it’s that meeting that is making me write this, because I can’t keep it in this morning. His wife, one of my favourite people on the planet, is fighting for her life against inoperable brain cancer. She’s fighting, but she’s not well, and the doctors are talking in terms of quality of life, not healing, not remission. My heart is breaking for her. My heart is breaking for him. A young couple that, like all of us, thinks they have forever together, have all the time in the world to chase their dreams. But we don’t. None of us do. It’s an illusion.

Life is short. We seem to think that we’ll live forever. We spend time and money as though we’ll always be here. We buy shiny things as though they matter and are worth the debt and stress of attachment. We put off the so-called “trip of a lifetime” for another year, because we all assume we have another year. We don’t tell the ones we love how much we love them often enough because we assume there’s always tomorrow. And we fear. Oh, do we fear. We stick it out in miserable jobs and situations because we’re afraid of the risk of stepping out. We don’t reach high enough or far enough because we’re worried we’ll fail, forgetting – or never realizing – that it’s better to fail spectacularly while reaching for the stars than it is to succeed at something we never really wanted in the first place.

A woman emailed earlier this year. Her husband, the love of her life, was a fan of mine and he’d just come through a tough fight with Leukemia. She asked if I’d take some time with him, go shooting with him if he came to Vancouver, sort of as a celebration of his recovery. I said yes, of course, how could I not. But I was busy, about to travel, and could we do it in a couple months when summer rolled around and I had time to host him. Of course. Let’s talk soon. I got back two months later and sent an email saying, let’s make it happen! And 5 minutes later got a reply telling me the leukemia had returned with speed and fury and within days he’d gone. Even now, I’m writing this with tears, though anyone that knows me knows it doesn’t take much.

We think we’ve got forever and that these concerns that weigh us down are so pressing. We worry about the trivial to the neglect of the most precious thing we have: moments we’ll never see again. We talk of killing time, passing time, and getting through the week, forgetting we’re wishing away the moments that comprise our lives. We say time is money when in fact the time we have is ALL we have. Money can be borrowed, time can’t. We fear taking risks, unaware that the biggest risk we run in playing it safe is in fact living as long as we hope and never doing the things we dreamed of. And then it’s too late. We watched our favourite TV shows, we fought a losing battle with our weight, we picked up the guitar once in a while and never quite finished the french language courses we wanted to do. We managed to get a large flatscreen and new cars once in a while, but the list of things we’d have done if we could really, truly could have done anything, kept growing. And we never did them.

I don’t know how to wrap this up. There’s no resolution. I was in Sarajevo last week thinking about all this; I’d be walking the old city thinking how amazing it was, looking into the hills that surround it. And then it occurred to me, just over 15 years ago the citizen of Sarajevo that stood in this spot was likely to be hit by mortar shells or sniper fire. We’re all terminal folks. We’re all in the sniper scope. We’ve got less time that we think. For every ten people that email me and say, “I wish I could do what you’re doing. I wish I could follow my dreams, I wish, I wish…,” I wonder if even one moves forward. I hope so.

Whatever your dream is, find a way to make it happen. Your kids can come with you. Your job can wait. You can find someone to feed the cat. I know, I know, there are so many reasons we can’t and some of those reasons are valid. Life is not only short, it is also sometimes profoundly hard. But I think sometimes our reasons are in fact only excuses. If that’s the case, take stock. I talk a lot about living the dream, and I’m an idealist, I know it. But it’s not self-help, positive-thinking, wish-upon-a-star. It’s the realization that life is short and no one is going to live my life on my behalf. And one day soon – because it’ll seem that way, I know it – my candle will burn out; I want it to burn hot and bright while it’s still lit. I want it to light fires and set others ablaze.

Life is short. Live it now. And live it with all your strength and passion now. Don’t keep it in reserve against a day you might not have. While the ember is still lit, fan it to flame. Be bold about it, even if your circumstances mean all you have is to love boldly and laugh boldly. Because now is all we have, and these dreams won’t chase themselves.

Read the follow up to this – Fill The Canvas – here.

Comments

  1. I’ve had more than a few of these reminders in my 43 years. Life is indeed short. And beautiful. And crazy. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in work and put family, friends and ourselves on the back burner. We need these reminders to keep us focused on that which is important. Thank you for sharing this, David. I’m off to hug my wife and son.

  2. It was beautiful the first time and it’s beautiful now.

    Please give yourself a break and don’t worry about writing at present. Take good care of yourself, take the time to heal and then you can continue to “chase” those dreams and inspire others to do the same.

    PS: Mom looks like she’s living the life!

    1. Author

      Yeah, but I LIKE writing. 🙂 Thanks Tom. And yes, my mom knows how to celebrate the wonder. Apple didn’t fall far from her tree.

  3. Wow, does this ever sting. Repost as often as you want. This one goes deep.
    Thanks.
    And peace.

  4. Indeed David…it took me most of my life to learn this through a few near misses and also at others unfortunate experience. Speedy recovery so that you may continue your earthly voyage.

  5. David, I’ve read a lot of your posts, and this is my all-time favourite. I liked it so much when you first published it that I took a snapshot of it and pinned it to my desktop. And it has nothing specifically to do with photography – it’s far bigger than that. The pastor in you is alive and well, and we are all the richer for that. Thank you.

  6. David,
    Firstly best wishes for a successful surgery and a fast/full recovery.
    Thanks for your re-post, I think you should repost this every year as a reminder to yourself and to us, your followers, to remind us of how important it is to not let life pass by unheeded and only partially lived.
    I enjoy your photography very much but, for me, it’s your thoughtful words that make me laugh, cry and want to squeeze as much as possible from this life.
    Very best wishes

  7. Hi David, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, I think we need a reminder everyday about that.
    I have lived very hard times in my family, lost my sister when she was 17 (I was 22), and that caused me a shock and at the same time helped me to open my eyes and realize all those things you say here; unfortunately for most of us, is necessary to be pushed into hard times to see the “real life”.
    I decided to live my life in my own terms and timing, and I promised myself to never do anything I would not enjoy to do. Pay attention to small details, take my time, enjoy every sunrise and sunset, and small details that normally we pass by when we live the hectic life and we run after material things that only makes us “happy” in a very superficial way. Filling my soul with experiences is keeping me going, and I was able to reach my dreams every time I had one, didn’t mater how strange or impossible it seemed.
    Again, thanks for sharing this I hope it will enlighten some people’s way.

  8. Well said, David. I know exactly what you are talking about. In 1993 we sold our house, closed down our company and left Ottawa to explore the world, not knowing where exactly we would go or how long we would be gone. Twelve glorious years later I returned home, much richer for all the places, people and experiences encountered along the way. I would not give up a second of that time. As you said, life takes many turns. This past year I was diagnosed with cancer and underwent chemotherapy and surgery. I’ve just finished my final chemo and, once again, look forward to new adventures. Thanks for your post.

  9. David,
    As a follower of Groucho Marx” refusal to belong to clubs that would accept him as a member, I don’t write responses to posts, blogs etc. Today, I will. I’ve followed your site for years, quietly. I’ve always been moved by your observations and reflections on life and living. That’s why I return here time and again and will continue to do so.

    I hope your recovery goes well. Take care of yourself by embracing the process. Ten years ago, my now 34 year old daughter was in a motorcycle accident that could have left her quadriplegic. It didn’t, and today she gave birth to her first child, a health 6 pound baby girl. She’s attained a future she couldn’t have imagined for many years.

    I’d like to think that ten years from now, all of us will have followed your example, embracing life and living as fully as possible, attaining a future we can’t imagine today because we pushed back against self imposed limits and fears.

    Best wishes

    1. Author

      Thank you, Mark. Congratulations on your new granddaughter! Thanks for the encouragement. It means all the more that you came out of hiding to say so. 🙂

  10. Thank you so much for re-sharing this with us David.
    I lost a dear friend this past week and your words are ringing in my ears.
    Your ability to open up your heart and share what is inside is such a gift and we are all so much better for it.
    Peace to you.

  11. This blog is the first of yours I’ve ever read — a great one! It is amazing how we get caught up in the day-to-day drudgery, the “making it through the week so we can really live on the weekend,” the barriers we put up to doing what would be fulfilling and contribute more, ultimately, to the greater good. I don’t necessarily believe that being a total grasshopper is good either — otherwise we eventually become burdens to our families, children and/or society, but finding ways to fit more of the life we were meant to lead into every single day — that’s a choice we can all make. Thank you for writing this in such an accessible, non-“self-help” way. It’s refreshing.

  12. David, I cannot agree more. I was in a career that was not fulfilling and Leslie and I quit our jobs, put all of our possessions into storage and shoved off for an African adventure. That time away from our friends, family and daily work life was rejuvenating and, dare I say, addictive. While we were away, I jotted down a business idea that I ended up pursuing and now that business is how I earn a living. That was 12 years ago, and I live my life like tomorrow may never come: I tell my wife and kids that I love them, I set goals that are driven around experiences and I love like there is no tomorrow.

    It’s a great post and a great conversation in this thread!

  13. David, I adored you first for the winning at yoga post, then TEN, then the visual toolbox, which is the focus of a year long shooting project I am doing with friends. Now this. It hits home of course. Don’t we all know people who have fought the bitter unfairness that can exist in life and lost? Every day is a gift – I feel it deeply. And you are a gift, too. Thank you.
    Renee

    1. Author

      Thanks, Renee. The best thing most writers can have, and long for, is just to be read – to be heard, to know the words we write make some difference. It’s nice to know the ripples spread from the stone tossed. 🙂

  14. Hi David (and Cynthia)! I remember this post and for some strange reason it pops into my mind eery now and then. You’re timing is perfect on this since I was going to try to send a similar message to my husband for our 11th wedding anniversary tomorrow. He’s a workaholic and we are both not getting any younger. I’ve taken the opportunity to have some adventures myself, but I really want to have some with him, so I guess I’ll show him this post also. Thanks!

  15. Wonderful, thought provoking story David, thanks for sharing. I too am nursing a broken foot, albeit only one, I share your frustration. Being laid up is not easy when the camera is calling. The forces that drive the passionate photographer are strong indeed, but hey, at least the editing is getting done! Your work is important and inspiring!
    All the best for a speedy recovery!

  16. Pingback: "Life is short" by David duChemin » Striking Images

  17. It really tells the story on what truly is most important. I think more and more about how each year has disappeared faster than the previous year. Where did the past 10 years go? 12 months ago feels like yesterday. Maybe this is what some call a mid life crisis but it’s really kind of scary how quickly time disappears. Finding a balance between resources and obstacles is difficult but rewarding.

  18. Your post, as so many have noted, is incredibly inspirational. I find the comments it has elicited often just as inspirational. Re-posting this essay annually as others have suggested would be great, but capturing some of moving comments from your readers would as well. Perhaps there is a way to package this in some appropriate manner so that it could reach a wider audience.

    Best wishes to you on your recovery and to the many others who are under going unforeseen life changing events.

  19. My younger brother is on his second battle with brain cancer. The first time they cut out a section of his frontal lobe the size of a grapefruit and he went on to live another 18 years without a relapse, fully functioning and loving life. This time the fight is still very hopeful but it’s going to be a harder battle. He’s weary and discouraged but he also knows that he did it once so he can do it again. As for me, I would love to travel to exotic places and photograph everything I see along the way but I have learned that its okay to photograph what’s down the street and around the corner, and to do it after the paying job gets done for the day. It doesn’t make me less of a photographer or less of an artist. God’s beauty is in all of it – I need only stop, look, raise my camera and click the shutter. And no matter where life might take me, I’ll never see anything more beautiful that the spirit of my brother as he refuses to give in to cancer for the second time.

  20. David, this is so beautifully written, and such an important message. I needed to hear it. Today, and yesterday, and again tomorrow.
    The days disappear if you’re not paying attention, and tomorrow may not come. I’m going to borrow this quote and put it on my wall, because I agree… it’s how I want to live my life too. Not someday, but now.

    “I want it to burn hot and bright while it’s still lit. I want it to light fires and set others ablaze.”

    Thank you.

    I wish you a speedy and successful recovery!!

  21. I read the original the day it was posted. We made some changes to our lifestyle, but not really enough.

    Yesterday my wife Antje, suffered a fall that ended with her in the ER. If the object that she fell on would have been a few centimeters lower, her life may have been over or at least radically changed.

    I read the re-post today to my wife. We agreed that we need to really start moving forward with our dreams. We truly never know how much time we have left and should never waste a second of it. Thank you for the reminder to fan the flame and live boldly.

    Praying your recovery is quick and successful.

    1. Author

      Sending our thoughts and prayers to you and Antje as well, Tim. Amazing how it all changes in the blink of an eye, isn’t it?

  22. I struggled with stage four cancer and beat the beast. I am sure that you will slide over the bumps and pot holes facing you. Good luck and good faith.

  23. important messages need repeating… because we forget to soon… too easily… thanks for the heads up…

    and sending all my well wishes to get you back on “those feet” again real soon… but one quick medical question first…

    does the surgery make you a hipster or a heel??? regardless heal soon…

  24. Thank you, David, for posting this! It only confirms my decision to begin submitting my photos for publication. Sometimes we need that gentle reminder about life being too short. But, in my case, it came as a swift kick in the pants! Your timing was perfect! Thanks, again!

    Hope you are on the mend and out shooting again soon!

  25. Wow, you are beautiful. That was heavy, thank you for sharing.

    This is really interesting timing. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I usually do, but its been top of mind. My cousin’s husband just hanged himself last week leaving four kids and a loving wife. Sometimes the candle goes out inside long before we go – and we walk through life like zombies in the interim. A piece like this cuts through the shit and noise that is everpresent and makes the meaning of living clear.

    I realized today that I am not living, existing yes, but not living. Just highly functioning at accomplishing tasks and meet obligations/expectations. But that is not living. And the decades go by…

    Best wishes on your recovery 🙂

    p.s. for a guy with 2 broken feet you’re kickin’ a lot of butt!

  26. David,

    Messages like this always resonate with me. It makes me take stock of my life and priorities. A little while back I had the pleasure of making a short film with some talented friends that we intended to speak to this part of ourselves. The part that wants to find beauty everyday and live with passion in our actions. After reading this post I wanted to share it with you and your readers. Here is the vimeo link:
    http://vimeo.com/62716181

    I hope you enjoy, and heal up quick!

  27. David.

    Firstly, may I wish you a speedy recovery and hope that you feel better soon and continue the adventure!

    This is the first time I’ve seen this post and it says so much about my own view on life and just I’m about to share it with my two teenage daughters. I myself left the firm in which I was a partner, almost three years ago to follow my dream, that of becoming a full time professional landscape photographer. I’m now doing this and the business has fortunately grown and become more successful every year. I’ve had the privilege of meeting many wonderful people along the way. Yes, I have less money, now but life is so much better! I love what I do and when you do something you’re passionate about, it is no longer a job. While I realise this can be difficult to achieve, each and everyone of us can make changes to our lives (no matter how small) that really make a difference to us and our families. Keep up the wonderful post, which I find so encouraging and I always look forward to seeing your name in my inbox!

    Thank you.

    John

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  30. Beautiful and true… Thanks for sharing that David. That’s the thing we are forgetting too often…
    M.

    Take care and rest! Recover quickly!

  31. Hi David,

    Your post popped into my in box today just as I was thinking very much on the same lines, as my partner approaches his fifth birthday (2 March) since being told he had terminal cancer.

    Although there have been some tough times since diagnosis (including right now as he takes part in an early phase drug trial) we have done more, seen more and been to more places in the years since diagnosis than in decades before. Photography has been part and parcel of that experience.

    When asked now whether we would like to do something, these days we always try to say yes – and figure out how after!

    Not surprisingly, your piece “Life is Short” resonated loudly with me. I have re-posted it on my blog http://doingsomethingpositive.blogspot.co.uk to inspire others. I hope that’s OK with you?

    Here’s wishing that you make a full and speedy recovery from surgery and will soon be up, out and about again!

    All the best,

    Linda

  32. David,
    I join the chorus in thanking you for re-posting and wishing you a full and smooth recovery. I remember reading this and it only gets more “true” as we proceed (or back up, or detour…) in this achingly instructive beautiful world. I think most of us out here are inspired by your attitude, approach, and accomplishments. But we are moved even more by the size of your Heart. With a capital “H.”

    Best wishes,
    Marke

  33. just WOW I’m a “virgin” to your writing, David and am DELIGHTED to have read this post…& the comments, too! NOW, what (else) am I gonna DO?? I’m old & poor but am going through my (VERY) small savings quite rapidly doing things that make me happy….(except the part about keeping my even-older convertible running – lol). I am blessed with family (&Church/God’s family) & friends who bless me by sharing their time, talents & treasure (read $$) with me. I’m gonna “share” your article for starters, tell my daughter how much I love her (AGAIN!), push the purring cat off my lap, have some tea & toast for brunch (which is a euphemism for enjoying sugar and butter!), go pick up my walking stick (NOT CANE, mind you!) that I “lost” at the yarn store & get ready for my “date” with a (possible new) male friend. SMALL stuff, by any stretch of the imagination….but TODAY is a GREAT day in my long life!! God is good!!!

    Thank you for writing, reposting, sharing… & warm, best wishes & prayers comin’ your way!!!

  34. Dear David,

    Thank you so much for re-posting this story, which I wept while reading. I pray for a speedy recovery for you following your surgery and am deeply grateful for you sharing this story again, which I really needed to hear right now.

    I’ve been struggling through a mid-life which includes countless reasons I’ve felt I need to set many of my own dreams aside: losing my father far earlier than I was emotionally prepared for, having to place my mother, who has Alzheimer’s, into assisted living, and having my young adult son, who has Autism, move home because he is not as far in overcoming the disabling attributes as I wanted to believe…. Amidst all of this, I very recently went through a very big “possible cancer” scare, though thank God, it turns out I do not have cancer.

    While all of these struggles seem like good reasons not to take those “trips of a lifetime” and follow my true dreams, in fact they are the best reasons why I should and must not give up on my dreams. THIS IS NO DRESS REHEARSAL!

    The Native American Lakota Sioux have a saying “Hoka Hey” and while many argue over the true meaning of this phrase, the one which “feels right” to me is “It’s a good day to die.” This does not mean we want to die, or that we think we are going to die; rather, it means it is vital to live every day of our lives in such a way that if it did turn out to be our day to die, we would be able to say, with no hesitation, “Hoka Hey, it’s a good day to die.”

    Thanks for the reminders of this inner wisdom….

    Warm regards,
    Janine Fugere – As Seen by Janine

  35. David,
    Boy do you know how to write! You’ve probably hit on every thought we’ve all had about reaching for the stars. Life is short, so very short and should not be taken for granted. My husband one of the many who’s candle burned out far to soon, as far as I’m concerned. He was 50 and I think about all the things we had planned to do, the places, journeys and the life we planned. I married him because I could see growing old with him, because he was my sunshine and when I gave him a kiss I could see how much he loved me. I now wonder what I’m supposed to do in this life. It’s difficult to start over when you’ve lost a love. But to me it’s even more difficult to live a life and not enjoy it. I can’t honestly say I’m totally happy. I can tell you I’m my happiest when I’m photographing. It’s one of the things that bring me great pleasure. I am a work in process, for grieving is a process, I have days when I feel happy, light and full of life usually that’s when I’m photographing. I also have days when I feel sad and I don’t know where to turn. I don’t have many days like this, when I feel it coming on I turn to the one thing that makes me smile, my camera. I love to laugh and I do love life but it is a challenge at times. I always say I’m being challenged when things get rough and it’s how I handle those challenges that make me who I am. I want to be remembered as someone that laughed and maybe took a good image once in a while. I want to be remembered as a good person that would help someone in need and I too want to embrace this new life and make the most of it but that is the part that’s the hardest. Heal quickly and I hope you get back out doing what you love soon.

  36. Wow — thanks (again) for that post. From time to time, (figurative) bullets go whizzing past everyone’s ears, but less-unpleasant reminders of what our priorities should be are a big help.

    Hope you heal fast from your latest surgical adventure, you’ve got photographic adventures to get back to. Best wishes and prayers from us,

    Eric

  37. I haven’t visited your blog for quite a while ~ but so glad that I did today. I remember following along when you were gearing up for your trip with “Jesse” (hopefully I’m remembering her name correctly) and then your unfortunate fall in Italy. I wish you well on your next surgery and recovery. The photos of your trip with your mom are fabulous! Such a treasure…. those days of adventure and the days ahead ……”don’t you dare waste it” Thank you, David!

  38. Pingback: Life is Short – a repost by David duChemin

  39. David ~ I hope this finds you feeling better and on a path back to good health! I loved this post, then and now. It’s perfect and timely, as my husband and I are in the midst of making big life changes. My husband retired early after 30 yrs w/ the USFS, our too-big house is for sale, as soon as it sells we’re moving to an area of our choosing, into a sm house so we can live a life filled with travel plans 🙂 (How’s that for a run-on sentence?) Excited describes how I feel!
    As always, thanks so much for the inspiration you provide through your words and images!!! It is greatly appreciated.

  40. Your words really hit home David. I’ve shared this with many. It’s a great reminder for what we all take for granted. Thanks as always for keeping it real…and doing what you do. It’s appreciated on so many levels.

    Off to make my mark…

  41. I’m living into this reality now with a rare cancer diagnosis that I discovered this past June. Thankfully, my husband and I already did the crazy thing and sold everything we had and moved our lives to Turkey…. so now, I just want to keep doing what we already started doing two years ago — except maybe with more of an emphasis on loving my children and less on accomplishing ‘great things’ that the world deems important. Thanks for reminding us to keep perspective on it all.

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