I happened to catch a few minutes of an interview Tim Russert did with Hamilton Jordan, Chief of Staff under President Jimmy Carter. He has written a book with the intriguing title, No Such Thing as a Bad Day. It’s his own story about being diagnosed with cancer on three separate occasions before the age of 50. “Where did the title come from?” asked Tim Russert. Hamilton Jordan said he called a friend with cancer who is also a father with several young children. After they chatted for a bit, Mr. Jordan asked him, “Are you having a bad day?” “When the doctors tell you that you have only three months to live, there is no such thing as a bad day,” the man replied. What a world of truth lies in those simple words. If you know you’re only going to live for a few weeks, every day becomes precious and you simply don’t have time to have a “bad day.” You get up every morning, smell the roses, and drink deeply of the elixir called life. Even the moments of sadness are there to be savored and remembered because soon those moments will be gone.
I think Mr. Jordan’s point is that in some strange way what happened to that young father was a gift from God. Not the dying part because that is heartbreaking to contemplate. But the other part, the realization that since you won’t be here long, you simply don’t have time to dwell on the negative. You see the sand slipping from the hourglass and you choose and choose again to make every moment count.
How different this is from the way most of us live. We can afford to have “bad days” because we’re planning on living a long time. A “bad day” is a luxury we give ourselves because we figure with so many more years to go, we can pout or be miserable or have a pity party or feel sorry for ourselves today. The dying have no such luxury. Only the living dare to go into the corner and sulk.
Years ago two of my seminary professors published a book called Happiness is a Choice. I’ve forgotten everything they wrote except the title, which is really nothing more than a restatement of the Apostle Paul’s comment that in every situation he had learned to be content (Philippians 4:12).
All the virtues and all the vices are choices we make. Happiness is a choice. So is anger. And gratitude. And kindness. And sloth. And patience. And doubt. And faith. We are the way we are because we choose to be that way. And we stay the way we are because we choose not to change.
“So teach us to number our days,” said the Psalmist, “that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” How true. Life is too short to have a bad day.