Don’t ignore the nudge

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If you’ve ever hated yourself for doing (or not doing) something, you know how I felt today. I sat down on the barstool where I always sit at the diner where my dad and I have breakfast each morning. Waiting on the seat next to me was a woman I’ve met a few times before. She turned to me and said, “I didn’t have your phone number, so I came to tell you… My dad passed away yesterday.”

The news hit me like a hard blow to the chest. Her dad, a smart, kind 73-year-old man named Bob, was my friend and my dad’s friend, and the three of us had been having breakfast together at that diner for almost four years.

Although Bob’s knees were bad, his mind was razor sharp. He was a veteran and a retired preacher who loved a great song or a good joke and could deliver either one with style. He had this great, infectious laugh that made him seem younger than he was.

His daughter and I talked through tears for a few moments and then she left to go make funeral arrangements, still reeling from the shock that her dad had gone to bed seemingly fine but didn’t wake up the next morning.

But this story is not about the pain of losing a friend to a heart attack. What’s worse is knowing I made a mistake in the days before he died. I’m deeply ashamed of it, but I think it’s important to say it, especially if it can do some good for someone else.

What I felt in the split second after I heard that terrible news was an intense regret and a certainty that I’d missed an important opportunity. Bob called me about a week before he died and left a voicemail to wish me and my family a happy Thanksgiving and to say he’d missed seeing us lately. For the past few months, we hadn’t been able to meet at the diner like we’d done for so long, but we were trying to stay in touch. I saved his voice mail, fully intending to call him back, but I didn’t do it that day.

I didn’t do it the next day either. I thought of it several times and each time I decided I’d do it later – when I had more time to talk, when I was more caught up with work, when I was less distracted with kids or cooking or cleaning up.

I thought of it again during the holiday weekend, but I still didn’t call. I figured he was probably busy with a family gathering. I was busy with mine. Yet there it was – the distinct feeling I should call. I told myself I would – later.

After hearing the news of his passing, I felt the full impact of my mistake and hated myself for it. I still feel sick at the thought that putting off something so simple might have hurt his feelings. And it cost me one last conversation with him.

I should have already learned this lesson. When my only brother died suddenly 15 years ago, my whole family realized that life’s circumstances can change in a single heartbeat or lack thereof. Maybe the passing of years had allowed me to fall back into the dangerous assumption that there’s always more time to “get to it later.”

You know what? Sometimes there is more time, but sometimes there’s not. And it hurts like hell when you realize you’re too late.

We are all busy. We all have things to do that feel important, even urgent. While all of that is true, none of it is a good enough excuse to put off people we care about. Sometimes that ignored nudge becomes the lost opportunity you can’t ever get back.

If you’re blessed with good people in your life, nurture those connections with time, phone calls, cards, text messages – whatever they need to stay strong. Do it even when it’s inconvenient. And when you feel what could be a God-given “nudge,” don’t make it get in line behind your busyness.

Sometimes you might get away with it. But sometimes, there is just no more time.

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