72 Hours

Last fall, I became aware of a writing contest that I felt competent to enter. They posted the winners last week and I am not among them – so I believe I am released to publish my entry. But first, a few words about it. The topic itself was tough: if I had 72 hours left to live, how would I spend it? I knew honesty would be my best chance of winning, so I put myself into those shoes. But there was one little caveat, to my mind.  If I won, there was big money on the line. But I also had to be willing to appear on prime-time television to do what I’d written. Hmmm. What would I actually do, publicly, if I had three days left?  They wanted details.

Here’s what I submitted:

I am a homeschooling mother of six children.   Even though I’ve already devoted 18 years to this mission, 72 hours is precious little time to wrap up everything I wanted to impart before I finished.  How to do it?  These children are my hand-hewn arrows into the future, accomplishing what I cannot do alone.  I want them to be good citizens, to work for the reclaiming and betterment of the country our forefathers set in place, to understand the role God played in the founding of our nation and my own personal life.  I also need to set my marriage right.  After over 20 years of chasing two sides of the same goal, my husband and I are facing opposite directions.  We need time together, uninterrupted by phones and pagers, to look each other in the eye and become one again.

We’ll go to the Smithsonian Institution, and aim for the National Museum of American History.  My top priorities are the flag, “Within These Walls” and “The Price of Freedom” exhibits.  I want the kids to know what made America great, and inspire them with the founders’ ideals.  My daughters and I won’t like the war paraphernalia as much as the boys, but all of us need to see that, far from being something you do because you’re drafted and told to, war is personal, and every person plays a part in maintaining our country’s freedom.  America was and is a place to freely pursue God and the personal or financial success available to anyone with the will to work.   Those who left their home countries, sometimes at tremendous risk to their families’ lives, knew that no governmental regulation could bestow what must come from within the individual citizens.  My children need to answer for themselves, as we peruse the artifacts, why these things, these ideas, matter.  What is freedom?  What is important to me, and why?  What would I stand for, even if it meant being killed on that hill?   How could I rather win those who would oppose me?  These are questions that I am beginning to answer, but I’d like to lead them to consider how to make a positive difference in their world.

Next, we need to look at the printing matrices for the US Exploring Expedition, and discuss not only how exciting it would be to be on that type of voyage, but how important the fields of science and communication are, even today.  Without perceptive scientists noticing the details of what they see, and talented artists and careful scribes to honestly communicate their findings to future generations, much of that information could be lost or misconstrued.  The hard work and sacrifices of the journey would be in vain.  I want to instill a vision of purpose and pride of workmanship into my children, and my grandchildren after them, that what each of us does during our time here is important.  Every minute, every person, while seemingly insignificant, has lasting impact on the world.  The relationships I nurture will even determine what I am invited to take part in, as well as how much of my work and beliefs is kept into the future.

That should take care of a full day, and a lavish room service dinner in a hotel suite big enough for all of us will be in order.  Even though my oldest are teens, homeschooling has allowed us a relationship I had only dreamed of while growing up.  I cherish every moment with each of my children, and, especially if my time is limited, they will want to enjoy every possible moment left together, as well.  My budding chefs will all want steaks and loaded, baked potatoes with Dad after a long day, but I’d rather a breast of chicken with rice and some sort of lovely sauce and a sprig of rosemary on top.  And a glass of Merlot, since it goes well with either – to just relax with my exhausted family.  Then I want a soft pillow under my head and my husband holding my back as I fade off to sleep.  I love sleep.

But sleeping in isn’t an option when time is limited, so morning will start early after my favorite Eggs Benedict with hash browns in a quaint, nearby restaurant.  I’d like to visit the Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian today.  I want to consider the importance, not only of leadership, but of the people who put it in place.  How do the beliefs of the people affect the culture, and how does the culture affect who is in leadership?  How do the leader of our country and his appointees affect the people and their lives?  I want each child to choose a person who most embodies the character he would like to develop and bring home a print of that person to frame on his wall.  Every child should have a well-chosen hero to emulate.  I never had one, and I have spent too long searching for what I value in life.  A model to follow would give them a “leg up” on becoming their best selves.

After a leisurely lunch, we’ll need to unwind after all that history and thought.  I don’t want to spend my last days with tired, cranky children, much less be worn out and grouchy myself.   It is time to laugh and play.  The hotel pool is just the place.

Dinner tonight is with hubby alone.  Someplace with champagne, friendly waiters, and a warm atmosphere.  I want to dress like a million bucks and wear my hooker heels.  Maybe stop on the way to buy an appropriate dress if we have time, but since I’m not such a big shopper, this isn’t a huge priority.  I like wearing beautiful dresses more than shopping for them.  I think I’ll have lobster, followed by chocolate cake with layers of rich fudge frosting, garnished with strawberries on the side.  Or would raspberries be better?  It really depends on the type of chocolate used, so I’ll leave that for the chef to decide.  And I’d like to dance tonight, too. I just can’t decide whether I’d like to rock it down to Annie Lennox at some hopping club or something more like Rene Russo in “The Thomas Crowne Affair.”

My final day – and after last night, I’m probably sleeping in a bit.  Breakfast is lovely:  fruit covered blintzes, with a glass of fresh squeezed OJ on the side.   I’d like to spend today wandering the shops and sights of Alexandria.  One of my favorite days was spent in Cape May as a newlywed, so it would be nice to have a similar day with my children that they can remember.  We’ll need a discreet photographer to catch all the special moments with me in the frame for a change.  And money is of no concern today; it shouldn’t have mattered so much all along.  I’ll buy my older daughter a pretty dress and a jeweled clip for her hair.  Maybe some fun sunglasses that help her remember this trip for the rest of her life with a smile.  My younger daughter gets a lady’s hat and a necklace with matching bracelet.  Since she is so young, what I get for her cannot be childish or something she will grow out of.  The boys –  fun t-shirts for each, but something special as well.   My husband has traveled quite a bit with work and I have been their security blanket all along; they need me.  While everyone has a hand-sewn quilt already,  I’m thinking of a unique, heirloom-quality rocking chair for each.  That way, when they sit down with their own children someday, I will still be there, in a way.  I loved rocking every one of my babies so much.

I hope the time spent in the past with my extended family has been sufficient.  If I were granted more time, I’d put visits with them higher on my priority list.  We are all so different, but the world would be a boring place without them.  Their presence in my life has clarified my thoughts and impacted me for good.   If I must go, though, I have no regrets and am confident that my dreams will be safe in the hands of my children.


2 thoughts on “72 Hours

  1. So, we finally get to read this great and mysterious writing project! There must have been some seriously good papers written for yours to have not placed. That was very brave of you to enter this in the first place with national exposure on the line. To get right down to it, that was fantastic, Brenda. That’s a very tough subject to write about and I’m not sure what I would have come up with. Since first prize was to have those 3 days granted, mine would have been filled with my children and food. And, of course, one day devoted to prostitutes and debauchery. Just because. Wonderful job on the paper and don’t let the results discourage you. You have a real talent that needs to be shared. For goodness sake, don’t stop writing.

  2. Beautiful Brenda…I even teared up a little.
    The Smithsonian is amazing, and what a fantastic last memory it would be for the family.

    Of course it is a fantastic memory even without the pressure of the “last days”…I need another trip there soon with the family.

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