Archived Opinion

Let them be your crystal ball

Let them be your crystal ball

Years ago during a teeth cleaning, an older dental hygienist offered some advice. She told me to let other people be my crystal ball — to observe their lives and learn from their mistakes, and to also note their successes and triumphs. Doing this would save valuable time.

I was in my early 20s during this visit to the dentist. Even though I’ve never forgotten what she said, I did what most young people do. I fumbled and frolicked through a few decades, falling down, getting up and learning many lessons along the way. Nonetheless, the crystal ball guidance was always on my mind.

My mom’s cancer diagnosis changed her outlook. She viewed life in a new way, knowing that her time on earth was limited. 

When you assume you have all the years in the world, you take things and people and moments for granted, but when you see the end in sight, things clear up quickly. You realize small things matter more than you thought and the “big” things matter less, if at all.

Weeks before my mom‘s passing, she held onto both of my hands, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Listen to me, darling. Figure out what makes you happy and do that over and over. I want you to be happy, that’s all I’ve ever wanted.” 

At that time, there were situations and people in my life draining me of love, energy and light. She didn’t mention those specific things, but she and I both knew her point of reference. After her death, I made a number of changes. Although my grief was overwhelming, her encouragement in those final moments led me on a new life journey, one that I adore very much. 

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About a month before my mom passed, my sister‘s father-in-law died of pulmonary fibrosis. He was a wonderful, salt-of-the-earth man. Before his death, he wrote letters to everyone he loved. The letter he wrote to my sister included these words, “Keep life simple and family close.” 

At his funeral, one of the pastors talked about the memories we leave for our children, grandchildren and other family members. We should live in a way we want them to remember us. 

The pastor said, “We think we have a memory, but really, the memory has us.” Every day, every moment is a chance to not only create a memory for us but also a memory for those around us. 

I recently listened to an Audible book by Mel Robbins. She unpacked the concept of worry and regret. She cited a study where researchers asked 1,500 people over age 65 what haunts them the most when reflecting upon their lives. The top eight answers were: 

Not being careful enough when choosing a life partner.

Not resolving a family estrangement. 

Putting off saying how you feel. 

Not traveling enough. 

Spending too much time worrying. 

Not being honest. 

Not taking enough career chances. 

Not taking care of your body. 

Older folks know things. They have wisdom and experience. We must listen and let them be our crystal balls. I often notice how elderly people watch kids and teenagers. They have a wistful, faraway look in their eyes as if they’re remembering their childhoods or their children’s younger years. It’s interesting how the long-term memory stays intact, even when short-term tasks like eating lunch or taking a pill are forgotten. 

As the summer hits its crux, my schedule is maxed out with activities and escapades. Weekends and vacation days are booked with trips, events, concerts, cookouts and more. My boyfriend and I are also training for triathlons. Our packed agenda may look hectic to an outside eye, but to us, it’s exciting. We have numerous opportunities to make new memories, stories we can tell years from now when we’re grandparents. 

In writing and in conversations, I like to espouse the meaning of life. I’m 41-years old, which may sound young to some, but I feel older and older every day. I think about those eight suggestions from the 65 and older crowd. Each day is one less day to see the world, hug people I love or try something new. 

One of my favorite quotes of all time is by the brilliant Mary Oliver. I’m sure you’ve heard it, but let me ask again. “Tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

(Susanna Shetley is a writer, editor and digital media specialist with The Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living and Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Leave a comment


  • Thank you! Life goes by in a blink of an eye. I'm going to be 70 in 2 days, which I find unbelievable. Live a life that you love, it's too short to waste it.

    posted by Deni Gottlieb

    Saturday, 07/03/2021

  • Nicely written opinion piece for a change. Not the nonsensical and twisted political rhetoric like before. This is good.

    posted by Joseph Creighton

    Thursday, 07/01/2021

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