Dickensian moment with a movie ticket

The oversized, fire engine red, old-style movie ticket hanging on the wall had my full attention. Whatever conversation was occurring around me melted away. I was fixated on the ticket.

"One life. Limit (1) per person. Make it count."

It was as if the ticket was saying, "Hey you, wake up! You're running out of time." I could feel my heart beat a bit faster like the after effect of that extra cup of coffee I really didn't need.

The ticket was right. 100 percent right. It knew all my secrets. Downtrodden by myriad stresses and disappointments. The unyielding expectations and pressures of work. The long running, and seemingly growing, resentments I can't shake. My concerns about the fragile health of my parents and the future welfare of my children. The war in Ukraine. Will I be able to retire young enough to enjoy what time is left? And when I do retire, what's my plan? And then there's the rabbits' relentless pursuit of the flowers in my garden. The rabbits always win. On and on.

The ticket had seen this before. It chuckled subtly and shook its head. It knows in the end, the very end, no one wishes they worried more, missed more of life's milestones or was less honest and kind. Or spent more time stressed about that work presentation.

"Constantly swimming hard against the tide of life, no matter what body of water you are in, won't get you past intermission," it tells me. "Be very careful, Kevin."

I thanked the ticket. It should know I'm trying to spend more time on those things, and people, that make me better, improve my life and instill a bit more joy. I endeavor to better contextualize those seemingly monumental things that create fear, anxiety, anger and sadness and not let them live rent-free in my head.

To recognize how truly blessed I am to have a fabulous wife, children, and family that loves me. I have my health, even though I may always carry the extra pounds I deeply long and struggle to shed. My gratitude list is long and not inconsequential. I seek more quiet time to think or just be, staying in the present to experience what brings me joy. I try to make better choices about what fits in my life and what doesn't, asking myself more often, "Am I loving, and in turn, being loved?"

Most important, I recognize the continual pursuit of life's wants far out of my control - particularly for those I love the most - are often fruitless and empty. Instead, I try to meet life on its terms with more patience, understanding and empathy.

It's been three months since I met the ticket. I'm more clear-eyed now, but still struggling. Particularly with the rabbits.

- Kevin Cook of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email him at [email protected].