As the patient talked with me I learned that he was a retired fire fighter. He told me that he had terminal cancer and was doing his best to stay alive as long as he could because he has a four year old son whom he dearly loves.
He told me that he has learned a number of lessons about life that have been both important and painful to him. One lesson he has learned is that he rushed into burning buildings to save strangers and he was too busy to spend time with his children and his family and they became strangers to him.
It is very painful for him now to look at his older son who has a son the same age as his four year old and realize he let precious moments pass him by when he could have played with him and taught him about love and the importance of family. It is so painful for him to realize that this moment in time is gone and can’t be recreated. And yet what joy he now finds in having the time to sit with his four year old as his son says, “Let’s play,” and he can say, “Yes, let’s do that.”
As he older son complains about all the work of raising his child, the diapers and the lack of sleep, he smiles and says to his son, “Enjoy him. Play with him. These are the best years of your life.”
How often we make discoveries that give us new insights and yet leave us with regrets that we didn’t learn this sooner. I have come to believe that some of these things happen to us not because we didn’t want to learn but because we weren’t ready to learn. When we are young and focused on mastering our job and advancing our career and making money so we will have something to retire on we don’t see the other things in our lives that are also important and need our attention. It may be only later in life that we can see more clearly that we could have put more time and effort into family and relationships.
As this man poured out his heart to me I hoped that he might gain some more insight into what might heal some of the pain in his heart. I hope he will continue to rejoice in playing with his four year old son. I hope his apologies to his older sons will help them to be able to forgive their father for the mistakes he made when they were young. I hope they will take a look at how they are being fathers to their children and find the time to play with them. I hope we can all learn that in God’s eyes it is never too late to learn lessons. In our regrets and in our pain may we never lose sight of the grace that our God pours upon our hearts letting us know we can always learn. We can always be forgiven. We can always go forward.