Two Hours

In a deviation from my usual blog fare, I feel the need to share with you, my readers, about a very special seminar I attended this past week.

I’m currently finishing up my certification program for music education.  At the moment, I’m about 1 1/2 weeks away from completing all student teaching requirements.  Every week, we are required to attend a 2-hour seminar on Tuesday afternoons…a seminar which sits on the tail of a very long day for me.  Typically, when I’ve attended these weekly meetings, I practice the art of sleeping with my eyes open.  It in no way reflects my feelings towards the content presented in seminar (except the paper folding lesson…THAT was boring); I just usually am so mentally/physically exhausted that I have no choice but to take a brief power nap with eyelids fully opened.  And that takes effort.  (Apparently, after a Google search, people can actually do this!)

eyes open

However, this Tuesday was different.  We didn’t learn how to fold a circular piece of paper in 14 shapes (true story). We didn’t watch a teacher go nuts while dressed up as a witch (true story).  Instead, our leader opted to deliver a life lesson to us all that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

Before he began speaking, he handed out a salmon-colored piece of paper to everyone in the seminar.  It looked a little something like this:


The paper had 4 boxes sectioned out, as you’ll see above, with absolutely no instructions.  We didn’t need any; instead, we listened as our instructor began speaking:

I want you to imagine something:  you’re at home, alone, when suddenly, the phone rings.  It’s your doctor, and he doesn’t sound happy.  He informs you that your last checkup allowed the hospital staff to diagnose you with Berry Berry Disease (because, it’s “berry berry bad”…we all laughed at this).  You have the Beta strand, which means that in precisely 10 years to the day, you will drop down dead.  At 5:23 PM on November 9th, you will cease to exist.  You will be perfectly healthy up until that point, but 10 years from today, you will pass away.

Ah, we thought.  We know what he’s getting at.  He wants us to pick the most important things we’d like to accomplish throughout our lifetime…surfing in Hawaii, skydiving, getting married, traveling…making that one big contribution to the universe.

In your first box, please write down any and all things you would like to take care of in your remaining ten years.  What do you want to do, what do you want to see, achieve, pursue?  What do you need to take care of?  Who do you need to take care of?

My first box looked a little like this:

Get married, have children, write a novel, travel every place I’ve ever wanted to go, buy a lake house, create the gourmet kitchen I’ve always want, make arrangements for family members, eat Big Macs WITH milkshakes, ask for extra chocolate with dessert…

Suffice it to say, I only took my first box partially seriously.  Our next task, however, made it a bit harder.  Our instructor continued:

Your doctor has called again.  He has some more bad news.  Turns out, you actually have the Alpha strand of the disease, and you’re only going to have two years to live.  In two years on this day, you will die. Write down in your second box everything you want to accomplish in that time.

2 years?? My heart started quickening a bit.  2 years is certainly not enough time for me to achieve the things I’ve dreamed about:  I want to get married!  I want to actually find a groom for this marriage!  And I want kids!  Even just one booger-picking, cookie-tossing, goldfish-eating kid will do!  I can’t do all of this in two years!  I had to prioritize.  I set to work on my second box:

Travel…EVERYWHERE, write a novel in a week, make arrangements with/for Mom after I die, live with no regrets, perform as much as possible, buy that Kitchen-Aid mixer and don’t look back, write letters more often, call up long lost friends, go out more often, visit family every month…

Okay, so maybe in the second box the inconsequential things were left to the wayside (except that Kitchen-Aid mixer…I don’t mess around with something like that).  Still, the activity went on, as our instructor continued:

Ring, ring…it’s your doctor again.  He has some really, really bad news this time.  I don’t know how to tell you this, but you now have 4 weeks to live.  I’m really sorry…please begin to make arrangements in your third box.

Holy hell…4 weeks? One month?

And here’s where the shift happens: when you begin to run out of time, you stop thinking about what you’d like to do, and start thinking about others first.  What will happen to Mom? How will she survive this?  My family?  How can I inform them of this news?  What about all my friends?  I have to tell them how much they’ve meant to me.  And my dog…someone responsible and loving will need to take care of her.  How do I possibly attempt to let go of the people I love the most??

How do you say goodbye to a lifetime of relationships?

As I began writing in the third box, my throat tightened.  Subtle tears began to well up in my eyes, but I fought against them.  How silly, I thought, to get so emotional over a simple activity.  I’m sure no one else is crying. I took a look around my group:  at least 3 other people were starting to get choked up. Here’s what I wrote in box 3:

Surround myself with the people I love the most, quit all and any jobs, hold dinners every night for friends and/or family, sing as much as possible, write as much as possible, stay up late at night, sleep little, focus on relationships, call everyone and anyone that’s ever meant anything in my life, do things for other people, give of yourself…

Still, the fourth box loomed in the distance.  I knew there was still more to this exercise.  Our instructor’s last instructions came last:

I don’t know how to tell you this, but your doctor has called one final time.  It’s not good:  you now have only 2 hours to live.  I don’t want you to fill out everything you need to take care of this time; everything will be worked out by your family.  Instead, I want you to pick only one person to spend your last two hours with….

There are a few things I remember after hearing my instructor say this:  I remember looking up at the clock…5:23.  I remember silence around me, colleagues too numb to speak.  And I remember feeling tears roll down my face.  How…how could I pick one person to spend my last moments with?  The choice was between two people…one a family member…one not…both loves of my life…why should I ever be made to choose between them?  How do I pick?  How can I leave one person I’ve known all my life for one I’ve only really known for about 2 years?  How can I pick to NEVER see one of them again?

The knot in my throat tightened.  Tears were now freely streaming down my face…along with 2 other members in my group.  I don’t normally cry in public, but I had no defense this afternoon.  The thoughts of leaving these two incredible people behind were earth-shattering to me.  I never want to leave them.  I never want them to leave me.

In the midst of great personal reflection, our instructor spoke again:

This has been an activity to get you to peel away at the layers of your life to determine what’s truly important.  The relationships you build throughout your life will define and shape you…NEVER lose sight of these relationship.  Never, ever allow your job to overwhelm your life…never allow it to become your life.  Keep people first.  Now…answer me one more question:  when was the last time you spend 2 hours alone with the person you chose?

Most of my colleagues would later inform me that it had been weeks since they had spent that much time with “their person.”  Luckily enough for me, I had seen “my person” for 2+ hours the night before.  I can’t imagine a day going by without making some sort of contact with this person, let alone physical contact.  I’ve always valued the relationships in my life, but not so much as I was that day at seminar.

My instructor’s lesson was simple:  don’t ever let your job consume your life.  Keep the “important things” as the “important things”; don’t let them become retitled as the “things you’d like to attend to.”  Filter through what you want to get to what you need. And for God’s sake, cherish the people who shower you with love and give it back to them, tenfold.  Life is about the memories we make with those we hold dearest and not about how much money we made or how good we were at our job.  It has nothing to do with reputation and everything to do with love.

I end my post today with closing comments from my instructor on this exercise.  You’ll truly understand what an inspirational person this man is by the time you finish.  I know I did.

I want to tell you a story about my son…who passed away just a few years ago.  When he was growing up, he would always nag me to play ping pong with him.  And my usual response was “Not now, son…I don’t have time.”  Work took over my life.  I ended up getting to be so busy that those ping pong opportunities became few and far between.  So, I made a change.  I cut down on what I was asked to do, and only made commitments to what I needed to do.  And, I played ping pong…boy, did I play ping pong.

At my son’s graduation from high school, I sat in the stands, tears in my eyes, and watched proudly as he made his way on stage.  I turned to my wife and said “God, I wish I had played more ping pong.”  She said “You played a lot of ping pong.”

My son died a few years ago…and I can say today…I’m grateful I chose to play ping pong…


33 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Teri on November 12, 2010 at 2:14 am

    To borrow the famous movie critics line – Two thumbs up on this post. Way up. This was so well written, and it made me well up with tears too.


    • Thank you so much, Teri! This experience is still very real in my mind and fresh in my heart. It was a very nice way to end my student teaching experience…gives me a clear view of the things I want to keep in high priority. Thank you for your kind, kind words!


  2. My instructor’s lesson was simple: don’t ever let your job consume your life. Keep the “important things” as the “important things”; don’t let them become retitled as the “things you’d like to attend to.” Filter through what you want to get to what you need. And for God’s sake, cherish the people who shower you with love and give it back to them, tenfold. Life is about the memories we make with those we hold dearest and not about how much money we made or how good we were at our job. It has nothing to do with reputation and everything to do with love.

    That is what I was trying to convince you in our last discussions that our relations based on friendship or love should be protected and preserved on priority and if somehow we are unable to secure them just give nonreturnable love to others who are badly in need of it.If you have short span of time just bypass your long term plans and spent time with weak genders of your society.You would be energized a lot after seeing their helplessness and you would be thankful to God for all what He bestowed you for your smaller life span.There is no substitute of content life and there is no end to our greed.So get rid of your greed before they eat away your original personality and enjoy the little little happy moments, hiding around you due to your careless atttiude.


    • I label this experience as a happy coincidence. It came at just the right time in my life, as anxieties about jobs, finances, and the future creep into my mind. None of it matters, however, without the relationships that make us who we are. The little moments spent with friends over a cup of coffee mean far more than those spent staying up late to complete the next project for work. The trick is to cherish the small things and never take them for granted, as little as they can be.


      • This experience is not a coincidence for you but you have strong absorption and inclination to understand such spiritual and virtual concept of living.You were just need a click to get it and here you got a chance .
        Some people spent whole life without such perceptions, no matter you try to convince them by all means…I am sure now you would sense feather weight conscious inside you as race of anxieties like career, finances and future ambiguities always keep us in an uneasy and disturb life setup.We must chase all goals in life as it is utmost requirement of urban lives for successful survival but along with this managing good company, trustworthy friends and fair lovers should be given quality time for refreshing your tiring nerves.
        On thing more in journey of search of good company don’t let people to take you for granted as some people or group take this sentiments as weakness which should be strength of your mind and personality.

      • You said it, Nazia…you keep making amazing follow-up comments like this, and I may have to post them. You have quite a way with words!

  3. Amazing, simply an amazing post. Teary eyed and speechless.


    • Thanks, ragrobyn. That’s precisely how I left my seminar that day. Very few lessons we participate in during college have such an impact on our lives, and the homework here is clear. Thank you for your kind words…are you going to post more about your latest vacation with the “Muppets”?


  4. Can you send your article for my blog.i would love to put it under the topic of faith.
    Actually what you learned through this seminar this is my family experience .My elders who have simple but loving social life is more healthy and long lived than the richest relatives.Although those rich and professionally successful people live and move among these content people with superiority complex but one can easily sense the difference of contentment in simple and social people.If they have any complex regarding their deficiency they discuss it altogether with some late sittings and when they leave the party, no desire left in their minds and they go for sound sleep even in old ages.


  5. Your new experience of life is little bit explained under my this topic.
    You can read it in free time.
    Thanks and have good time holidays.


  6. Posted by Author Kristen Lamb on December 27, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Wow! Amazing blog and yes I have tears running down my face. I agree a million percent. Thanks for sharing this.


  7. Great story! We all need a reminder now and then to hold on to our most precious possessions. Our FAMILY.


    • Thanks, Lisa! So nice to see new faces around here…I’m glad I could stress how important friends and family are, especially around this time of year. Have a wonderful new year! Stop back soon!


  8. Very beautiful. Thanks for sharing 🙂


  9. Well, my dear, you certainly are layered. Love this post. So glad you shared. A lot of times great pieces like this are simply floating around unread. You have got the writing chops and handle this story wonderfully. I will therefore make no puns about how for a second I thought you said to cherish the people you shower with. Instead you said “cherish the people who shower you with love…” Indeed love.


    • Oh, didn’t you get the hidden meaning? That’s EXACTLY what I meant. Besides, people who actually are willing to loofah your back and shave your armpits are really the only ones deserving of love, right?

      Thanks for the chance to re-post! I’m still trying to get to all of the other commenters. Maybe perhaps I should hire you as my agent…my site got more hits than normal yesterday. ‘Course, that might have just been The Mom on her new laptop…


  10. Posted by Lori on December 28, 2010 at 3:05 am

    Thanks so much for this post. I, too, cried as I read it and thought of who my 2 hours would be spent with. During this crazy busy holiday season, it’s good to be reminded of what is really important in our lives. Thanks again!


    • Lori, I actually cried DURING class when our supervisor did this! So did many other people in the room…I kept the worksheet he handed out as a reminder to keep the important things in life AS the important things…thanks for stopping by! Hope to see you around here again!


  11. This is brilliant and touching – thanks for reposting with EduClaytion.


  12. Posted by Sparky on December 31, 2010 at 2:04 am

    With a tear in my eye I’m headed home to spend two hours.. just because I can.
    Thanks so much for this post.


    • Sparky, I can only hope that this post inspired you to do so, but if you were already planning to return home, I hope that your visit was filled with love. Thanks for stopping by my site. Come back soon!


  13. Wow, AB. Came to this via Clay’s repost blog. Beautifully written. Versatility with voice is the hallmark of a great writer in my opinion.

    I’m a habitual, “I don’t have time.” More ping pong.



    • Your words mean so much, Chase. Yours was one of the blogs that helped me find my voice! So, thank YOU!

      More ping pong, I say…less work! The exercise we did still has an impact on me when I think about the relationships in my life. It always will.

      Happy new year, friend! Hope the “gang” is well!


  14. […] Two Hours November 2010 28 comments and 6 Likes on 3 […]


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