I was privileged to witness an unexpected and very touching seen at work today. It was one of those moments that catches you off guard and makes you reflect deeply on your own life. It probably lasted no more than ten minutes, but I’ve thought about it all day.
As I was finishing up some last minute paperwork at my desk before heading home, the pathologist came into the office to talk to my co-worker, who is the pathology department supervisor. He is a lovely man with a thick Charleston drawl and a great sense of humor. I’ve always admired the fact that he is humble and easygoing. Many doctors forget that they are human after a few years in practice.
The two talked shop for a few minutes and then the conversation turned to family. Dr. P told her that his son, who is the youngest of 4 children, will soon be moving to Austin, Texas with his girlfriend. He said it would be the first time that his children were so far away from him; he’s always had at least one at home. My co-worker suggested that it might be a nice break for him and his wife to be carefree. What he said next shocked and saddened me.
“No, I think it’ll be sad and I’ll miss them” he began. “I realize now that I didn’t spend enough time with the kids. I’ve always been so busy. Between work and doing the things I wanted to do alone, I really screwed up…bad.”
I was purposely eavesdropping now, riveted by his poignant honesty.
He put his head in his hands for a moment, then continued. “You think that you’re kids are going to be there forever because that’s your life. There’s plenty of time later. Then, one morning you wake up, and they’re grown. And they’re busy doing their own thing that no longer includes you.”
He hesitated, perhaps realizing how much of himself he had revealed, and tried to lighten the mood. “Oh well, I guess all parents wish that they had done something differently at times.”
And then it was over. My co-worker excused herself and Dr. P followed on her heels. I was left sitting in my chair, alone in the office, to ponder the weight of his words. I feel like I spend a good amount of time with my kids, but there is room for improvement. Sometimes we’re physically in the same house, but we’re definitely not together. Instead, we’re all engrossed in our individual electronic devices, our solitary pursuits. I need to make a conscious effort to get everybody “unplugged” more often and to find things we can do to make happy memories.
The universe has a funny way of getting just the right message to us when we need it, if we’re willing to listen. We only get one shot to be parents. With all of the frustrations, expenses, and heartaches that our kids bring, there is no greater love in life. And there is no greater loss than knowing that you have squandered an opportunity that will never come again.