I have always been drawn to the terrible. I know that sounds awful, but it is true. As a young child I would sneak the graphic Holocaust book that I was told never to look at, and stare at picture after picture. They would haunt me. I would think about those faces throughout the day, and they would visit me in my sleep.

As I grew, I would read the obituary section, and cry over the lives lost of those I had never heard of before. I would head straight to the section on crimes, and read every detail of every murder that had taken place. To this day,I have always been drawn to the terrible I am often found with tissues in my hand as I stare at my computer screen and wonder how anyone could be so evil as to commit many of the horrific acts that can be found throughout the news.

I have always wondered where this came from, and why I do it. To a great extent, I think it is to make me feel. To make me care. To want to tap into the intensity of emotion that can be hard to reach on one’s own. And to remind myself how precious life is, and how little control we have over it.

The idea that we should live every day as if it is our last is something I read a while back, and stayed in my mind as the ideal goal to reach. Its source is actually in the Talmud:

Rabbi Eliezer said: “Repent one day before your death.” So his disciples asked him: “Does a person know which day he will die?” Rabbi Eliezer responded: “Certainly, then, a person should repent today, for perhaps tomorrow he will die—so that all his days he is repenting.” (Talmud, Shabbat 153a)

But this goal came with a lot of guilt, for as hard as I would try, I would fail, time and time again. My day would end, and I would think how it was not how I would have wanted my last day to be. It took some time for me to realize that there will never be a day that will end with me feeling that way. And I’m not sure I want there to be. Upon more reflection, I realized that while most definitely we should live with the awareness that we may not have another opportunity to do in the future what we can do today, simultaneously, I don’t want to live my life as if it is going to end. I want to live my life as if it is just beginning.

Fortunately, I do not know how long I have in this world

Fortunately, I do not know how long I have in this world. I pray it is a long time, as there is so much I want to do and accomplish. But if I knew I had a limited amount of time, it would prevent that from happening. Because instead of having goals to reach for, I would only focus on the present. There would be no future to work towards. If I knew that, G‑d forbid, today was my last day on Earth, I would be doing absolutely everything different than I am doing it now. I wouldn’t be working. I wouldn’t have sent my children to school. I certainly wouldn’t have wasted a half an hour washing dishes! If I somehow knew ahead of time my expiration date, I would spend my every waking moment enjoying my children and husband, speaking with other family and close friends, and checking off as much as possible on that bucket list.

But that is not all that takes place in my life.

So, I continue to take care of the seemingly mundane, from bills to cleaning to cooking. I drive carpool. I edit and write articles. I check e‑mail. I waste time . . .

Hmmm, I waste time. Yes, I most definitely do. I procrastinate and push off what I don’t like to deal with, and get swept away with distractions. And, to an extent, some of that helps. It gets the creative juices flowing. It reorients and helps balance. And along the way, I end up in places I wouldn’t have found had I not allowed for the detour.

I end up in places I wouldn’t have found had I not allowed for the detour

But I think the real point here is not to try to only live as if it was our last day. That is just way too much pressure. Rather, to try to utilize the time we have in a meaningful and productive way. To be conscious. Not some of the time, but all of the time. To be aware. To be cognizant of our behavior, our surroundings and our impact. I think that is the real goal for me.

The other day, when one of my beloved children was being exceptionally annoying and I was about to raise my voice to a pitch that can break glass, I stopped. I thought about this idea of not taking anything for granted. I thought once again, as I often do, about the parents of the 20 Sandy Hook children, who would do anything to be annoyed by their children. And it calmed me down. I didn’t scream. I walked away. I came back a minute later put together.

And it occurred to me then that rather than trying to live as if I am going to, G‑d forbid, lose my children, I need to live focused on how I can be a calmer, more patient, more loving parent. It doesn’t mean I will never lose my temper, but it does mean I will be trying that much harder not to.

We can’t ignore or forget about tragedy. It is vital that we remember these events, both to honor the memory of those lost and to live better lives, since they are unable to. But that is the real point here. We need to live. And when we consume ourselves with fearing death, it immobilizes us. We need to live today as today. To the fullest as possible, but as today. Not as today and tomorrow and the next day. It is too much pressure. It is too much to ask. It will end up paralyzing us rather than propelling us forward.

We need to live. And when we consume ourselves with fearing death, it immobilizes us

When we lived in Israel I would see this all the time. At first it bothered me, and then I understood the necessity. Whenever there was a terrorist attack, and it was often, everyone would be shaken and speaking about that attack the entire day. The newspapers were filled with stories of the victims. The television covered the funerals. And there was no escaping the harsh reality that we lived with pain and suffering in our midst. Yet, not long after, life resumed. We went back to normal. And not because we forgot. Not because we didn’t care. But because we had to. Those terrorists took the lives of their victims. There was no way they were going to take the lives of the living.

And I think that is really what it is all about. We shouldn’t be living our lives as if today could be our last day. We should be living today with the realization that today will never reoccur. So, our only opportunity to do what we can do today—is today. What is my goal for today? What can I focus on and improve or change today? What choices today will help me tomorrow move closer to what I am aiming for? And how can I make sure, in the craziness of my day-to-day life, to stop and appreciate those I love, and acknowledge the blessings that I have?

I never really tapped into the brilliance or importance, until now, of why Chabad chassidim learn the Hayom Yom every day. This book was compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1942 at the request of his father-in-law, the previous Lubavitcher rebbe, who described it as follows: “A book that is small in format . . . but bursting with pearls and diamonds of the choicest quality.” Every single day has an entry with the customs of the day, important events that happened on the day, and an inspirational thought. Every day is important. Every day counts. And every day should be lived to its fullest. But that doesn’t mean that we are to squeeze a lifetime into a day. Rather, we are to squeeze the most we can out of each day.

So, I am changing that quote in my head. No longer is it the one about living each day as if it was my last. Rather, it is another that I wish had posted to my Facebook sooner! It reads: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Exactly. So for me, this is what it is all about. No longer will I pressure myself to live as if I could die. But to live in the best way possible. Positively. Passionately. Purposefully.