Sara lived on the same floor as me in our university dorm. She was one of those girls who did it all. She was in the university’s honors program, she participated in Model U.N., she ran track, she was friendly, outgoing, warm. She was gorgeous, too. She enjoyed hiking, dancing, swimming, and thrived on trying new things. And she changed my life.
We were friendly with each other, but we weren’t close.
After getting over a flu, I went to Sara’s room to borrow notes from the psychology class I’d missed. If one person would have the notes, it would be her. She had a perfect attendance record and organized notes to match.
“Are you feeling better?” she asked me.
I nodded. “It was a bad flu. But I think I’m finally getting back to normal.”
“My notes are in my backpack.” As she stood up, she winced, letting out a soft groan. “Track workout – a real killer,” she explained, giving me a lopsided grin.
“Why don’t you take a break?” I asked. “You work so hard, you exercise so much, you’re always on the go. Maybe it’s too much?” I felt genuinely concerned for this perfect girl; she could burn out. She’d still be amazing if she didn’t run track.
She turned to face me and paused. “I’ve got to run while I still can.”
There was something about her that was so serious, so grave. “W-what?” I stammered. “Run while you still can?”
“Yeah, that’s my motto: Run while you still can.”
“You have a motto?” I asked, searching her face. I saw she wasn’t joking.
“You never know when your time will be up, when your legs will stop working.”
“You never know when your time will be up, when your legs will stop working, when you won’t be able to do new things anymore. So you gotta do while you still can do. Run while you still can.”
“But we’re so young! We’re not even twenty!” I protested. There was a feeling rising up inside of me, a shadow of fear, of mortality I had never tasted before. I swallowed hard, forcing it down.
Sara shook her head. “You don’t know?”
“I have MS.” She wasn’t sad or bitter. She was just relaying the truth. She was still smiling. “I don’t know when my legs will slow down, when it will be too hard to run and then too hard to walk. I don’t know when I’ll be in a wheelchair and unable to backpack through the Appalachians or hike in the Alps. I don’t know when I won’t be able to do things I love or try new things. So I’m trying to fit it all in. This is my chance! Run while you still can!”
“Wow. I didn’t … I didn’t know,” I sputtered. “That’s amazing.”
“No. Not amazing. I’m just a person. A person who wants to get the most out of her life. It’s not just about ‘seizing the day.’ It’s about filling my day with things I value, about doing things that matter to me.”
She handed me the notes.
“I have MS, so I already know the clock is ticking. I’m doing everything now. I’m not waiting for tomorrow! When I’m wheelchair-bound, I don’t want to have regrets. I’ll know I did so much already.”
She paused and a little sadness crept onto her face.
“I’m one of the lucky ones. There are so many people who are just trying to pass the time, sticking headphones on, gluing themselves to screens to get through the day. What about people who don’t even realize they’re wasting time, who push everything off until tomorrow, who wait for another time? Everyone’s clock is ticking. I’m just fortunate enough to see mine.”
I left the room, shocked and inspired. I couldn’t believe that someone my own age was so far ahead of me in living – really living – her life. I wanted to drop my notes and run, trying to grab life before it passed me by. I got a lot more than psych notes that day.
After freshman year, Sara and I lost touch. But I never lost sight of her message. I decided to not wait for the future. I strived to change my life for the good, to climb spiritual mountains and explore vistas of my soul. And when I’m tempted to slow down and zone out, I picture her in my mind and hear her saying to me, “Run while you still can.”