Learning how to live between the steps

Published 7:30 am Sunday, July 31, 2022

I once read about a university professor who was invited to speak at a military base. A soldier named Ralph was assigned the task of picking him up at the airport on that December day.

After they had introduced themselves, the two men headed toward the baggage claim. While walking down the concourse, the professor noticed that Ralph kept disappearing in the crowd. First, Ralph helped an older woman whose suitcase had fallen open. The next time Ralph lifted two toddlers up so they could see Santa Claus.

Still again, Ralph detoured to give directions to someone who was obviously lost. The professor recalled how, after helping each person, Ralph came back with a big smile on his face.

“Where did you learn to do that?” the professor asked the soldier. “Do what?” Ralph replied. “To be so helpful and considerate to others,” the professor said. Ralph responded, “During the war, I guess.”

The soldier began telling the professor about his tour of duty in Vietnam. It was his job to clear the minefields and he watched a number of his fellow soldiers and friends get killed by explosions, one after another.

“I’ve learned to live between the steps,” he said. “I never knew whether the next one would be my last, so I learned to get everything I could out of the moment between when I picked up my foot and when I put it down again. Every step I took was a whole new world, and I guess I’ve just been that way ever since.”

Meeting Ralph was an unforgettable experience for the professor. Reading about Ralph reminded me that every day is a gift from God – maybe that’s why it’s called the present.

Helen Keller once said, “Life is either a daring experience or nothing at all.” She also declared, “I will not just live my life. I will not just spend my life. I will invest my life.” Scottish minister Henry Drummond has written, “You will find as you look back on your life that the moments when you have really lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.”

Jesus said He came, “that (we) may have life, and that (we) may have it more it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Someone once said, “Abundant life is not determined by how long we live, but how well we live.”

There’s a Peanuts cartoon by Charles Schulz depicting Lucy talking to Charlie Brown. She begins, “Life is a lot like a deck chair. Some turn theirs to see where they’ve been. And some so they can see where they are at the present.” To which Charlie Brown replies, “I can’t even get mine unfolded.”

In the words of Henry James, “The great use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it.” There’s a Gospel song that says, “We have this moment to hold in our hands and to touch as it slips through our fingers like sand; Yesterday’s gone and tomorrow may never come, But we have this moment today.”

Jan White has compiled a collection of her columns in her book, “Everyday Faith for Daily Life.”