About 30 years ago a friend, who was 90 years old, repeated an often-heard phrase which was “Life is short,” and at her age I could understand that it was getting much shorter. Then she added another, intriguing sentence, “Eat dessert first and always take the biggest piece.” I found it rather amusing and by the smile on her face I could tell that she did as well, so I asked her. “Marnie, why do you say take the biggest piece?” And she said, “Because you won’t waste any time deciding which one to take, just take the biggest one.” We had a laugh together. Her good spirit was infectious and I was honored to have known her and to have had the opportunity to engage with her on numerous topics including especially the education of young people in our country. The daughter of missionaries in China, with her family being interred in a camp in Japan during WWII, she returned to the United States to serve many years as an outstanding educator and school administrator. And she was not one to waste time.
We seem to spend inordinate amounts of time making decisions that could be streamlined and simplified. As life gets shorter and more compressed the economy of time becomes more important because we want to make the most of whatever time we have remaining. The truth is that none of us knows for sure how much time we have. When I was in my 40’s I came to a mid-life realization that each day is a gift to make of it what we will. I used the analogy of fresh snow with no tracks in it and as I went through the day, I made new tracks. At the end of the day I looked back to see where I had been, who I encountered, how it all went, a review of what I saw, heard and learned and then let it go, taking lessons learned forward. It’s such a good opportunity to review the decisions made and the results obtained, or deferred.
Now, 30 years after the “eat dessert first and take the biggest piece” conversation, I am extraordinarily grateful for the gift of time and for each day as the foundation of that gift. It is not how long or how short life is but rather what we make of it while we are here. There is a way of looking at the gift of a day as a piece of cake although I had not thought of it that way previously. The origin of “a piece of cake” sheds some light on the phrase.
The idea of cake being “easy” originated in the 1870’s when cakes were given out as prizes for winning competitions. In particular, there was a tradition in the US slavery states where slaves would circle around a cake at a gathering. The most “graceful” pair would win the cake in the middle. From this the term “cake walk” and “piece of cake” came into being, both meaning that something was easy to accomplish.
Take the cake and take the biggest piece. Take the day. Carpe diem! Make it easy for yourself and others. Let’s celebrate the opportunities we have in front of us. There will inevitably be days that are difficult and the challenge is how to work through those difficulties and get to a place where it’s easier. Whether we see life as short or long is irrelevant. It is much more what we do with whatever time we have. To the extent possible, celebrate with some cake and look for the biggest piece.