I remember sitting under the stale, moldy wood of an abandoned tree fort deep in the back-woods of Minnesota. It stood high in the trees like an ancient ruin – covered in summer moss and swaying softly in the breeze. I was a young boy, about Mitchell’s age, and finding such an unexpected fort was magical. It became a place for us to disappear from the world … to dream of things and imagine the future. One summer, while sitting in our fortress in the trees, my friend and I asked each other what we would do if we only had a day to live. That was the first time I can remember asking myself that question. Being young and easily entreated we would talk of shopping sprees, all-you-can-eat candy, and driving Ferrari's. 

Even in college I remember stumbling across that same question with friends. Our answers were different then – but the question remained. 

Fast-forward about 20 years and this reality barged its way into my life like a terrifying home invasion. As far as we were concerned Mitch was home for a day and might die at any moment. So we lived each day as though it were our last because we couldn't afford not to. 

For 28 beautiful but agonizing days, we thought Mitch was only home for a day. 

My daughter took this photo shortly after Mitch came home. Moments prior he had reached out to hold my hand, our fingers interlocking and asked in an almost-whisper, “Dad, will you sit by me?” I remember him snuggling his face up to mine. I can still feel the warmth of his skin on my face, his shallow breaths on my chin, and his love bursting in my heart. Sometimes, when I think back on this moment, I reach to my face as though I could touch his – but then the dream ends and he is gone. 

I’ll always remember how he snuggled up to me; I just closed my eyes and wished that I could freeze time or that I could steady his failing heart. At that moment I didn't know that Mitch was smiling – I only knew we loved each other. And that was enough, and more. 

Home for a day: it was a wonderful blessing and a terrible burden. This experience was (and is) so difficult to endure. Eleven years ago my tender son didn't exist, and I was quite content without him. But now that I've had him I cannot imagine a life without him; and here I must find a way. I pray to God that my heart finds a way. 

Mitchell taught me to appreciate each moment as though it were my last. I don’t mean to sound so dramatic as to peer dimly through the window of a funeral home, living each moment in fear of death. What I have come to understand, with exacting clarity and regardless of circumstance, is moments are fleeting. The moments I had with my kids last weekend are long since passed – I don’t get to go back there. 

So whether I face death or more life, each moment is my last.

All too often I hear about the perils of distracted driving – but I wonder how often we think about distracted living. Perhaps being distracted is the root cause of much of our troubles.

Mitchell, being home for a day, taught me to remove the distractions that would seem to take life away from my life. And when I removed the distractions and lived in the moment, rich were the blessings and treasured the memories.

A strange illusion, indeed, to think that breathing is living.