As a lifelong Jeopardy fan, Cindy Stowell had always dreamed of competing on the show. She and her husband bonded over the show for years, answering questions together as she hoped for a future spot as a contestant. This past summer, Cindy applied online and earned a spot to tape an appearance this summer, which aired this past December. While competing, she managed to unseat the 7-day champion, last for 5 days in competition, and earn over one hundred thousand dollars in winnings. However, Cindy never got to see her appearance on television because she died December 5th of Stage IV Colon Cancer at age 41. She knew that she had precious few moments left, so she decided to continue to pursue her dream with additional vigor despite her failing health, and instead of resigning herself to what amounted to continuous fevers, excruciating abdominal pain, and just a handful of months left, she decided to live fully, as if any moment might be her last.
Death is such an enormous fear for so many that we become paralyzed by the mere thought of it. We’ve lived our whole life avoiding the inevitable (and it is most definitely inevitable for all of us) that when we are faced with it, we cannot begin to fathom it. In fact, we often spend so much time dreading that final moment, that we forget to actually live the other days as if we were truly alive. We instead wrap ourselves in misery and guilt, victimizing ourselves and others instead of embracing what little time we have left and making the most of it.
Early in his career, Steve Jobs came across a quote that read, “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” The realization he made there was that he had to stop morbidly worrying about death and instead start embracing life by making every moment count. Instead of waking up each day wondering what the point was because it was all going to end anyway, he would ask himself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” Whenever the answer was “no” for too many days in a row, he knew that he needed to change something. His decision to live each day fully and make his actions count led him to a fulfilled life that changed many others in the process.
Many verses of the Bible warn us that we don’t know how much time we have left before death’s embrace, and all of these verses have the same basic message: “Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come…What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’’ (Mark 13.33, 37). Mark, and many other authors, knew that oftentimes death comes unexpectedly, so his advice is for us to stay alert, be on our toes, and not to resign ourselves to depression and inaction. Changing our mindset from “waiting to die” to “living for life” alters our world and those around us, as we project an outlook of gratitude and optimism.
Both Steve Jobs and Cindy Stowell were taken from this earth much sooner than most, but they both chose to live in the moment instead succumbing to their fates. Because these two people saw the end coming and instead chose to live as fully as they could, both are influential to those that know their stories, and their influence ripples outward, teaching us to love every God-given moment. This week, repeatedly ask yourself if you are living this moment as if it were a gift, alertly living as fully as possible. If not, it’s time to make a change and embrace life. Amen.