One of my favorite meditations comes from Sam Harris where he discusses the following concept:

“Each time you do something, pleasant or unpleasant, that is one last time that you will do it. And there will come a time when you will do something, a final time. And you’ll rarely know when that is…. Long before you die you will cease to have experiences, ones that you take for granted.”

Take a minute to think about that. Too often in life we are just trying to get through, seeking to get to the end so we can move on to the next thing, or enjoy the big, meaningful moments. Going through life on autopilot deprives of us of the gift of the present.

If you are a parent, when is the last time you will pick up your child, tuck her into bed, read her a story? When is the last time you went camping, water skiing, sledding? What have you already experienced for the last time?

An attempt to view life this way potentially gives poignancy to everything.

I was speaking with a friend recently about this idea. He lamented the fact that his daughters will no longer hold his hand and snuggle with him. It reminded me of my three girls. I’ve taken each of them to New York for a daddy daughter trip. I took Claire and Emme when they were younger and as we walked throughout the city they instinctively reached up to hold my hand. I’ll never forget that – the feel of their soft, tiny hands conveying a sense of love and trust. When I took Scarlett, she was older and had moved past that phase in life. We had an amazing time, but I realized that holding the hand of my little girls would never be the same. Somewhere along the way I had missed out on the last time that would happen. 

Like a lot of dads, I’ve played Tickle Monster with my kids. As they’ve gotten older and I’ve become more fragile, we really have stopped playing. I can’t think of the exact last time that their laughter filled the house as they plotted their escape and I tortured each one in their most ticklish spot. I treasure those moments of pure joy with the kids. So yesterday, I had some time with my five year old, Jack. He jumped at the opportunity to play a game of Tickle Monster, and it filled my soul with pure joy. Nothing could have been more important in that moment.

Jack loves John Denver. His favorite songs are “Colorado Rocky Mountain High,” and “West Virginia.” He sings them in a squeaky little voice. One of these days he’ll grow out of that voice and he’ll probably move on to other favorite artists (not if I’ve trained him well). A few weeks ago we were at a friend’s house who is a world renowned pianist. Each of the kids had prepared to play a piano piece, so I asked Jack to sing us a song. Without hesitation he offered up a heartened rendition of “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” My heart beamed. Yesterday, as we were driving through preschool drop-off, he rolled the window down and sang at the top of his little voice “Take me home, country roads, to the place, I belong, West Virginia.” He sang as if he was singing to the world a song of greatest importance. My heart sang with joy and I’m sure John Denver smiled down from heaven as well. I will always have those memories. I’m grateful I was paying attention.

What simple joys in life are you missing when you’re distracted by unimportant things? Despite some of my wins, I know I miss out on too much.

Recognizing that there will be a last time for everything can change your experience in the moment, and will help to find more meaning and purpose.

But what about the more mundane things in life? Some of my partners at work, who were close to retirement, had their careers cut abruptly short because of the Covid Pandemic. After performing thousands of anesthetics for surgery, I’m sure they would have liked to savor the last one to celebrate years of a successful career. Despite giving their best to every patient, I believe they would have loved to know that their last case, was indeed, their last.

A truly amazing physician, who delivered two of our kids, had a career-ending accident while vacationing a few months ago. Although he was a skilled doctor who treated all his patients with love and compassion, I’m sure he would have liked to be able to truly be in the moment of delivering his last baby. He would have had no idea that his last delivery before that trip was his final one.

Think back on your life and figure out some of the lasts you’ve experienced. Were you able to give them the full attention they deserved? If not, could that change the way you see each experience now? Are you willing to take the time to connect with your life?

Sam Harris said, “Everything represents a finite opportunity to savor your life. On some level, everything is precious. And if it doesn’t seem that way, I think you’ll find that paying attention will make it seem that way. Attention really is your true source of wealth.”

  • Nic
    1 year ago
    This is a great way to make the seemingly mundane more meaningful! My grandma used to always overcook her rolls, but she passed away years ago and there was a “last time” I was able to eat one of her rolls. What I wouldn’t give to have one more roll and truly express how much I appreciated it. I can’t go back and apologize for being unappreciative. But I can commit to appreciating and cherishing each of life’s small gifts as they happen. We never know when they will come around again. Thanks for another great post, Nate!
    • Nate
      1 year ago
      I love this Nic! It's so true that the little things we take for granted are the things we miss the most when there are gone. Thanks for sharing that experience.
  • Whitney
    1 year ago
    Loved this post (just like I’ve loved them all) but it really makes one stop and think about lasts… I’m sure I’ll have many lasts with my kids soon. I should stop and enjoy the moment more. Loved your stories and personal family memories.
    • Nate
      1 year ago
      Whit! Thanks for checking in. Looks like you just had a great trip to somewhere fun! I hope you enjoyed it more 😊