Smith: Learning to live for today

During a trip to Hoag Hospital for radiation treatment in November 2010, Cay and I stopped at a red light. It was lunchtime. There were people in the streets, hustling to get somewhere as cars sped by to get somewhere else.

My wife gazed out the window and said, "They're all asleep at the wheel."

After all of my years as a senior executive, I cannot recall the specifics of a single meeting, most of which seemed so important at the time. I can't recall any reason why I have ever driven too fast on the street to get from one place to another, other than because I was late.

In every instance, though, putting the pedal to the metal was both unsafe and unnecessary. But I'm sure it was important at the time.

Someone cuts us off on the street, or on the freeway, and we get upset. Five minutes later, we've forgotten it. In the supermarket we fume while waiting in line, wondering why they don't get another cashier.

Driving away from the store, our anger is but a distant memory. On the phone, we've all been put on hold for eternity, which made our blood boil at the time, but I challenge anyone to remember the details of that moment.

We don't recall because our brains have an automatic sorting system for information. Without thinking about it, our brains have decided for us that these nuisances are not worth remembering.

That's true for most of our brains. For a few of us, we cling to the minutiae, carrying it far longer than we should.

Remember that car that pulled up next to you with the music so loud it could be heard in Fullerton?

Remember the last time the store cashier gave you the incorrect change and you wondered whether you were being cheated or whether it was an honest mistake?

I don't recall the details of the last time either of those happened to me, but I remember being irked. I'll bet you can't recall the details, either.

These types of events, these common, minor annoyances, are not worth a moment's thought, yet we spend moments allowing them to reach a negative part of us.

What a waste of a good brain.

Cay had a good brain, a really good brain. She was better than I was at letting the little things go, and it helped her maintain a good disposition for most of her life. Ultimately, though, her brain became cancerous and she died at home June 4.

Cay left her family with a great gift, for while we've always heard people say how short and precious life is, we didn't fully understand the concept until she was diagnosed in June 2010.

From that moment on, we learned to live for today. That doesn't mean we stopped planning for tomorrow; it means that most of our energy would be focused on right now and that we would no longer waste a moment of time thinking about the unimportant things.

Not long ago, a friend was describing a vacation she longed to take, and then she told me that it would have to wait until next year because of work or money or something else.

I said, "The chances are that whatever issue is holding you back from that trip will probably be around next year."

"Yes, you're probably right," she replied.

Then I asked her the question that became common in our house after Cay's diagnosis: "If not now, when?"

Maxing out credit cards to take a dream trip or to buy whatever it is we think will bring us happiness are not sound decisions, despite the fact that life really is short and precious. It is a good idea, however, to start working on whatever it is that keeps you from realizing a dream, even if it's a small one.

It's either that or stay asleep at the wheel.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to

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