Our Remaining Time

By Sue Schools

beautiful day


On January 13, 1840, a tall, bearded man ran down the pier to catch the steamboat Lexington which was to leave from Long Island, New York cruising to Stonington, Connecticut, where he could have caught a train returning to his Boston home and family. He had been delayed by an argument with his editor and cursed when he saw the ship pulling away from the dock. He was almost tempted to leap across the divide but knew the almost zero temperatures of the Sound would mean almost instant death if he fell below the restless waves. Gripping his carpetbag closer and pulling the collar of his thick coat tighter, he reluctantly turned to retrace his steps and secure a hotel room until the ship returned.

The next day, he bought an extra edition of the late morning newspaper as he sat down to breakfast and ordered a cup of coffee. He was astonished to learn that ironically 150 men, women and children had either drowned, been frozen and left drifting in the swift currents or burned on board the Lexington when 150 bales of highly inflammable cotton had been stacked within a foot of the smokestack casing.

Only four men survived during the frigid night, most having stretched out along floating bales of cotton and only seven bodies of the unfortunates were recovered for burial. The Lexington was touted to be the swiftest and most luxurious of all steamboats at the time and thought to be the safest, if not for human error.

Whether through blind luck or divine intervention, the man who missed his ship was almost 33 years old at the time and lived to be widowed twice and to sire six children before his demise at age 75. He cherished the opportunity to live where so many had fallen and went on to be acclaimed worldwide and remembered for his talent.

He was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and 15 years after his lucky day authored The Song of Hiawatha and some 7 years later wrote Paul Revere’s Ride, among other classics. He was a Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard, where he mentored other talents. The additional 42 years fate handed him were not squandered.

Now in 2020, most of us are past our childbearing years and probably won’t become famous for our achievements. Most of us have many friends who are widows or are widowed. But that doesn’t make our time left on this earth less productive or valuable. Whether we have an additional 5 minutes, 5 years or 50 years, we can count our blessings at being survivors and can look forward to accomplishing what we wish and choose … whether it’s finishing a novel or changing the sheets.

The choices are ours to be cherished. Enjoy and make them count!


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