Three Weeks to Live

By Janey Womeldorf

“The news is not good. You only have three weeks to live.”

And with that, her adventure begins. She quits her department store job, cashes in her IRA savings account and flies off, first class, to pursue what she had only dared dream about.

This seemingly far-fetched, but not totally unrealistic, premise is the storyline of the movie, The Last Holiday, starring Queen Latifah. She plays Georgia Byrd, an ordinary woman with a passion for cooking who keeps a scrapbook – her “Book of Possibilities” – in which she organizes photos and magazine clippings of the people and places that represent a life she would only dream about – until now. Motivated by the fear of regret, she books a ticket to the luxury hotel in her scrapbook, stays in the presidential suite and indulges shamelessly in the cuisine of its famous chef; ordering all the night’s dinner specials when deciding on one becomes too stressful. When she discovers her prognosis was a mistake, she returns to her hometown to pursue her true calling – owning a restaurant.

Her story has a happy ending; her life a new beginning.

We may not be so lucky.

We may never be given a reason to break out of the box and live our life the way we only dare dream about. Years turn to decades as we while away our one chance at life, living safely and sensibly, trapped by security, and rarely daring to rock the boat, “just in case.” Spontaneity and risk become a thing for the young. Who gets the better deal? Is it the person who lives for three short weeks, yet fulfills their life’s passions and dreams? Or is it the person who reaches a ripe old age, but dies aching with regret? Perhaps those who have reached their golden years, only to rock away on their porch regretting all the things they did not do, can understand.

I don’t want to be a regretful porch rocker, but it haunts me. I have read the books and bought the posters, but dreams are scary and ours wasn’t even that adventurous. All we wanted was a simple life; instead, we were living a life we no longer wanted.

It started with the house. Walking into our first house, I knew immediately. The feeling was magical. We bought it and loved it. I never doubted it would sell because I knew another person would experience what I had. It sold to the second person who viewed it. She knew, too.

We bought our last house for different reasons – all of them sensible; none of them right. We needed somewhere to live, it was close to the new job and because “that’s what you do.” We live in a culture that encourages us to be homeowners. You buy so you can have somewhere for your golden years. Retirement was decades away, yet it already directed our decision-making process.

Home ownership is about so much more than just paying the mortgage, especially as your house gets older and repairs more frequent. We began to resent the amount of time, money, and energy spent on home maintenance. It was constant: Another problem; another overwhelming flick through the Yellow Pages; another trip to Home Depot; another expense. The chore of home ownership was sucking the personality out of us, and the sound of our frustration was slowly replacing the sound of our laughter. Then one day, a few words of wisdom on a $10 calendar changed everything.

It suggested that home ownership was not for everyone and to consider renting as a way to greatly simplify your life. It was a light-bulb moment. People thought we were crazy, but we no longer cared. Life shouldn’t be that complicated. Our house had become too frustrating, and too costly, with too much space and too much stuff. The sale sign went up and “Operation Downsize and Simplify” began.

Now when the dishwasher leaks, I pick up the phone. The on-site maintenance crew in our apartment complex is there within the hour. If they can fix it, they do; if they need to replace it, they will. Problems, big and small, are taken care of even in our absence. Cleaning takes a fraction of the time, and we are free of the maintenance headache. It is bliss.

True, we will have rent to pay in retirement, but we are funding that nest egg with the money we save from no maintenance expenses. Plus, every month we benefit from lower taxes, cheaper home insurance, smaller utility bills, no pest control or garbage collection bills and no major appliance or extended warranty purchases. We even get our carpet cleaned for free once a year. We have incurred one additional cost though – going to the movies instead of Home Depot on a Sunday afternoon. We estimate that come retirement, we’ll break even financially. But the true reward has little to do with money. We are enjoying simpler, stress-free living now, and that is priceless.

Dreams don’t have to be adventurous, flamboyant or even life-changing. Sometimes, true pleasure comes from simplicity – less stuff, more time, and the joy of waking up each day enjoying where you live and what you do. Change is within all of us, and its reward is inner peace and outward joy. It just takes the power to make the decision, address your fears, and make it happen.

Our nest egg now includes money for two sturdy rockers for when we are sitting on our porch, reminiscing with laughter about the things we did do, not mourning the things we didn’t. We may not own the porch, but we can rock away knowing that we did own our life and the way we lived it.

A poster now hangs in the narrow hallway of our modest apartment. On it is the inspirational quote by Carl Sandburg: “Nothing happens unless first a dream.”

It serves as our constant reminder.

We pray it will never take a terminal prognosis.

About this writer

  • Janey Womeldorf Janey Womeldorf once went to work wearing different shoes. She now freelance writes and scribbles away in Orlando, Florida. It’s probably best.

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