An ideal to live by

Age must be making me more philosophical – or perhaps it’s the writing I do with the focus it brings on characters’ emotions, motivations, joys, and disappointments. A number of years ago, I clipped a portion of an article from the Globe and Mail written by Gordon Pitts. Mr. Pitts had interviewed Marilyn Carson Nelson who was then Chair of Carlson Cos. Inc. a hospitality-travel business that included Radisson hotels and Carlson Wagonlit Travel. (One of her daughters has subsequently taken on that position.)

The question that captured my attention was Ms. Nelson’s quote:

Every day should be a day I can sign my name to. We should live as a kind of artist because that may be the last day.

Mr. Pitts asked Ms. Nelson to explain and included her response in the interview.

“Our third child was a daughter, Juliet. She was beautiful, vivacious with that wonderful free spirit that comes from being a middle child. She was the one who would call in the morning and say, ‘Have you seen the sun rise?’

She had gone off to college and she was in an automobile accident. She was in the back seat, didn’t have a seatbelt on, and was thrown out of the car.

It’s impossible to put words around the loss of a child. My husband and I tried to make sense of it – and of course, you can’t. But you decide every day, ‘Are you going to get up, or are you going to put the pillow over your head? Of course there are many reasons to get up, but it is so hard to try, in any way, to force yourself to go on. Then we began to realize it was, in part, about time.

We spend our lives thinking about when – when our children grow up, when they graduate, when they’re married. And it is wonderful – we are preparing.

But this wonderful gift is today. She didn’t know she would not come back from college. I don’t know whether I’ll get home tonight. But I know I have this moment – and the time we have is the time being.

So my husband and I decided on a philosophy that if today were the last day of my life, would I be able to sign my name to it? Would I say I lived up to my own expectations of myself? Did I live with integrity? Did I apply my talents? Did I love my neighbour? Did I forgive?

Those are the things that each of us really wants to do, but we don’t always take stock at the end of the day and start again tomorrow. We should make a bit of a work of art of the time we are given.”

I’m glad I found this piece again and can share it with you. Hopefully, I can bring this philosophy into my day-to-day living.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website

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10 Responses

  1. What an admirable philosophy. So often I get to the end of a day and fear that I have just wasted it. My own mother died young (not as young as this girl – but 41 is no age these days) and I often think that she would have given almost anything for more time. It’s not achieving great things that matters, but feeling that a day has been well spent. I will try harder!

  2. Mary,
    A sobering and necessary article on the need to pause and reflect on our busy lives—and yes, the actions we take, the planning, the commitments and measures we put into place for “one day.”
    Often, (too often), we allow our business to steal our joy. We get caught up in running through each day, not noticing “the sunrise, the sunset, the beautiful smile the little lady in the wheelchair gave us …
    Nothing wrong with planning for tomorrow but we have now, today. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is not yet. We have today.
    Thank you for reminding us!

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