Chris Stuckenschneider

So we think we have it all figured out — how life will transpire. We’ll live out our days as our parents have, make it to 90-plus with the usual infirmities of age, aching joints and rheumy eyes, wrinkles etching our skin, gait and balance affected by advancing years.

But then a funnel cloud on a strange November day dips down, and in the time it takes for a siren to squeal a warning, homes and farms are flattened, leaving only sticks, death and destruction, and prayers.

A family member takes ill, perfectly healthy one day, only months to live the next — the diagnosis delivered by a grim-faced, but kind, family physician who pulls his chair close, takes the patient’s hand in his, the news hewing off another piece of his soul.

A week ago, my dear friend and colleague Dawn left on a road trip with her daughter Bailey, a fun getaway for the two of them, bent on discovering just the right law school for Bailey to attend, having graduated from Mizzou in the spring. And in the blink of an eye, life changed for them, at least for a while.

Far away from home in Fort Worth, they are recovering from back injuries sustained in a car accident. Neither knows what the next day will bring. To stave off worry, they’re trying to live one day at a time, one hour, even, as the minutes crawl by, time marked by a sterile hospital clock, always situated in much plainer view than we’d like.

We get these reminders of how sweet and temporary life can be continuously, and we vow to change when we hear news that devastates. This time will be different. We will really be on guard, aware, of all we have to be grateful for, will count our blessings and post them online or in a journal, say additional prayers and get to church on Sunday, be more thoughtful to those having a hard time, won’t take our brisk walk on the trail for granted, or drawing a breath without pain or remembering how to tie our shoes.

But then the phone rings, the tablet chimes a message, an alert pops up on the computer. Distractions everywhere — breakfasts and suppers to ready for kids on the run, deadlines for papers and projects, endless do-gooder duties for volunteer organizations, and work that comes home with us demanding attention 24-7.

How can we find the time we need to thank someone for a special favor, send a card to a person undergoing chemo, fix a meal for a family in need, goodness knows there’s enough going on with the business of daily living.

And so the peaks and valleys continue, and we grow irritated and impatient with ourselves. We thought we’d learned our lesson this time; the emotional pain stopped us in our tracks, didn’t it? Our worry was paramount and circular. How could we forget and hurtle headlong into the future, with nary a thought given to our blessings, the fact that the person we’d prayed so hard for was finally better.

We vow once again to be different. Chalk up our apathy up to human nature, and smile when a text pops up showing a photo of a granddaughter enjoying a present we’ve just given her, on its heels another appears from a young woman letting me know she doesn’t have to have surgery after all.

All this in the space of time it took to write a column, and my heart swells as I lace up my shoes to take a bike ride on the Katy Trail with my sister, knowing we’ll talk while we pedal along on the golden and amber-leaf-strewn path, about how quickly we forget how precious and uncertain life is.

And we’ll make a pact to be different, and we’ll be the same, just as all of us are.