21 Days

Last summer, my brother, my sister, and I, with our respective families in tow, converged on my father’s house for a week of rest and relaxation in sunny California. It was a much anticipated—and needed—family reunion. I hadn’t seen my sister, who lives in Indiana, in a couple of years. It had been even longer since I’d seen my brother, who resides in Washington. And we hadn’t all been together since my wedding almost a decade earlier. The week was nothing less than amazing. We ate. We drank. We laughed. Our kids got to spend quality time with their cousins, splashing in the pool and playing video games. And at moments, it felt like our mother, who passed away in 1998, was overseeing the whole event, still the loving matriarch of a closely knit family, bound together by affection, respect, and enough disagreements, arguments, and spats to rival any family.

But as anyone over the age of thirty with brothers or sisters can attest, spending time with your siblings as adults is surreal. At the most odd of moments, images of your childhood almost hijack your consciousness. You remember specific moments as children, both good and bad. You literally see your brothers and sisters—as they were years ago— in the eyes and actions of their children. (“She looks just like you” and “he acts like his daddy” were two of many refrains echoed over and over throughout the week.) And you wonder where all the time went. If you’re not careful, you’ll even find yourself holding back a tear or two. It’s okay— normal and healthy, even— to let those tears flow, but I’ll get to that in a later post.

When it was all said and done, we’d done our best to squeeze as much beer and barbeque chicken, movies and sports, and storytelling (and retelling) into a week as is humanly possible. Believe it or not, we even squeezed in a birthday party for my son and a trip to the Emergency Room for my brother (it’s a long, long story). And I wouldn’t be Bobby Bluford if I didn’t bring my travel workout gear (plyometric boxes, a couple of medicine balls, and three sets of dumbbells) along so I could show my nephew, who is an aspiring soccer player, what his old uncle could still do. Not much, it turns out!

Yet, with all of that, it still wasn’t enough. The finality of the week, as my sister and brother packed up their cars; one driving up the coast, one heading to the airport; hit me like a big red brick. My dad, you see, is a tough man, reserved in his demeanor but resolute in his approach to life. I’m as proud to be his son as of anything I’ve ever accomplished in my life. He retired from the Army as a Sergeant Major in 1992 (after 23 years) and is close to retirement in his second career as a Correctional Officer (17 or 18 years; I lose count). And if you’ve ever met him, you know EXACTLY where I get my drive, passion, and dedication to being the best I can be. But as is often the case in successful marriages, my mom was the opposite. A social butterfly with a sharp tongue that always told you the truth (in a loving way; just ask any of my closest friends) might be the best way to describe her. Sensitive with a genuine compassion for others would be a close second. So, she certainly didn’t raise her children, boys included, in a manner that deviated too far from what she stood for. And we certainly didn’t disappoint her. As I hugged my big brother (he’s ten years older than me, but don’t tell him I told you that), the emotions spilled over. It was as if he and I were both balloons and the tight hug, both of us probably showing the other how strong we were, resulted in a quiet, but inevitable burst. A few minutes later, I hugged my baby sister (she’s fourteen months younger than me, but people have always thought she was older; indicative, I guess, of my maturity level) and remembered thinking how proud I was to be her big brother.

And just like that, I was driving back home. My trip home was a lot shorter than either of theirs, just little over an hour. But, it might as well have been ten hours. Because it seemed like the longest hour of my life. What if I never saw them again? Okay, it wasn’t that dramatic. But, what if it was another few years before I saw them individually, what if it was another ten years before we were all together again? The number-crunching nerd that I am took over and I couldn’t help but simplify what I saw as a very frightening reality.

21 Days. That was all I had left. That was all we had left.

You see, I’m 38. My math tells me, then, that my brother is 48 and my sister 37. If my brother (Sorry, big bro; but since you’re the oldest, I gotta start with you) lives to be 80, a long life for anyone but especially for an African-American, we’ all have 32 years left. Together. On this Earth. And that’s assuming the good Lord doesn’t call my sister or me before then. The shortest gap between meetings amongst any of us three has been several years, but let’s assume we all finally realize how special and important life and family are and agree to see one another every year and a half. Again, I’m not a genius, but my math tells me that the result is about 21 more times (32 years divided by 1.5 years between meetings). Every meeting is longer than a day, but you don’t feel that way when it’s over. Either way, it’s one moment in time, a block of days that for all intents and purposes, counts as one.

One day every year and a half.

21 more of them.


A sobering reality, huh? Maybe it’s not 21. Your number might be “much” bigger. Maybe you see your loved ones or friends more often than that. Maybe it’s at least once per year. Maybe it’s twice per year. Or once per quarter, even monthly. Whatever the number is, you can count it! And in less time than it takes you to finish your Starbucks coffee, I guarantee. Maybe 21 becomes 50. Or 50 balloons to 100. But if I said you or your loved one(s) had 100 days left, would that number still seem big? I doubt it. One of cinema’s most popular and time-tested storylines is the ”n days left to live” story, where n represents a variable to which you can assign any number you (or the producer) wish. And the story never tires. Why? Because it forces us all to face the stark reality of our own mortality. It reduces long work hours, deadlines, the shuffling of children to and from endless activities, and our everyday responsibilities down to the very basics of human existence. Of our existence. And for each of us, the answers to those two age-old questions “What is the purpose of life?” and “Why am I here?” are different. But our own personal and intimate answers to those questions are what ultimately reconnect us to the glue that binds us all to the world around us. It truly is only through our relationships with others that we can leave our proverbial footprint on the world. Like a great sage once asked, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound?” If you have wisdom and do not share; if you have courage and do not save; if you have love and do not hug, kiss, and cry; if you have brains and do not teach; then have you lived? I say no.

So, while work is important— after all, we do have bills to pay— and our spouses, bosses (often one and the same), and children keep us frantically and stressfully busy, it is vitally important that we remember all of the people in our lives that mean so much to us. Our time on this Earth is FINITE, even more so, probably, for all of the “life-experienced” people reading this. If you’re like me, and I imagine you are, there are several people you love or care deeply about whom you see far too infrequently. And if you force yourself to do the math on how many more “times” you’ll see them, instead of producing a paralyzing fear, I hope it’ll prompt you to make a fundamental shift in, first, your thinking, and ultimately your actions. It will not be easy. Heck, I still beat myself up when I make excuses why I can’t meet up with my close college friends or why we can’t afford to go see my wife’s family half a world away. And I still hit the snooze button on my life and relationship clock far too often, preferring to “sleep in” a little longer before facing the “day”. But more and more often, I’m catching myself, reminding that excuse-making voice that I don’t have a lot of these left. Days that is. 21, in fact.

21 Days.

So call that friend you love. Heck, send him an email or text message if that’s easier. Schedule that vacation to visit your mom. For no reason other than to say you love and appreciate her. Or reconnect with your girlfriends over dinner and drinks. And surprise them by paying, for once. And do it now. Because you don’t have all the time in the world.

21 Days.

That’s it!


About bbluford
I am an executive finance professional with a love for process and application development (MS Access, Excel, Quickbooks), mostly as it relates to Accounting and Business Functions. I also love to write and share ideas with other people in this world. I'm an admitted Gym Rat who works out excessively. The best summation of me is that I love to teach and to learn.

14 Responses to 21 Days

  1. Doris Tolliver says:

    When I read the title, I was curious about the article, but didn’t expect this. It’s interesting because I was having a conversation yesterday about missing people and was asked if I often miss people (or things or times). My response was that I definitely miss people because most of the people close to me are many miles away. In that same conversation, I reflected on mom and the fact that having her here is the only thing that I would change in my life. While I have many fond memories, there isn’t any other event or time that I would like to relive or change. At the same time, I recognize that I am stronger and better for everything that is occurred in my life, even (and probably most profoundly by) the death of my mother at the much too early age of 24. I love you big brother and can’t wait to see you again. I think it’s your turn for a visit 😉

    • bbluford says:

      It IS my turn for a visit. It’s crazy, but I think we all forget what a gift this life it. And how fast it goes by. I’ve been so caught up over he last decade on where I wasn’t yet– not far enough in my career, I should have a bigger house for my wife and kids by now, on and on and on. When I look at the kids and how fast they are growing, I really realize how important this time is, how important this DAY is. What I am realizing is that I am exactly where I should be in life. I’m exactly where God needs me in this life. And more applicable, probably, I’ve learned that my family and true friends could care less how much money I make or how many situps I can do. I love them for who they are and what they mean to me. And they feel the same about me. What’s crazy is that mom taught me that a long time ago… but I was too dumb to listen. Well, I’m listening now, Mom.

  2. Victoria says:

    525,600 minutes. “Seasons of Love”: That’s the defining song in the musical “Rent”. It’s the measure (in minutes) of one year in your life. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8iTeDl_Wug) [Editorial: Hellllloooo Jesse L. Martin and Taye Diggs!]

    It’s a variation, Bobby, on your “21 days” theme. Quantifiable. Finite. Precious. Priceless. It’s easy to forget all that. Thanks for reminding me.

    Love you guys!

    • bbluford says:

      Hey Vick! Glad to hear from you. Are you saying I stole this concept? LOL. I really didn’t know about that similar concept in “RENT”. With Taye Diggs in it, maybe there’s good reason. That fool puts the bar way too high 😉 On a serious note, I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. And it’s been eating at me because I; not unlike many others, I’m sure; allow the stupidest stuff to get in the way of enjoying those that are close to me. But I’m taking baby steps to overcome this and hope that my friends not only join me, but push me. I am blessed to have all of you in my life and selfishly have decided to enhance the quality of my time here by embracing those relationships.

  3. Chris Sterling says:

    Thanks for that post, Blu. Sometimes we forget that most often it’s the people around us (family and friends) that have enabled us to get to where we are today. You have to make time for those people.

  4. bbluford says:

    I could not have said it better, Sterl! I get tired of people beating their chest and breaking their arms while patting themselves on the back. Every one of us has a whole list of people to thank for where we are in life. We usually remember the obvious ones– mom, dad, coach, teacher, wife. But there are a lot of others who have helped shape us. And you’re right, we not only need to seek them out and thank them, but continue to learn and grow through our relationship with them. As Stephen Covey puts it in “7 Habits of Successful People”, we have to continue to sharpen the saw.

  5. Rob Croy says:

    Thanks Bobby, I hear you load and clear!

    Much love my friend,

  6. Dennie Marenco says:

    You illustrate a great yet sobering point of our existence. You clearly see that we only get one shot on this earth and moments like the one you had with your brother and sister really drive that message home. Our reflective natures will inevitably generate more of these expriences, which in turn, will increase the likelihood that we chreish these moments in our lifetime times ten, twenty, or more. It is a post like yours that excites me about the lives and history we will leave behind for our younger ones. I’m looking forward to sharing one of those moments in mid March.

    • bbluford says:

      Yes, Sir, D! It’s easy to think that this is just how life is. I look around and realize how uncommon it is to have SO MANY great people around me. People who teach me. People whom I can teach. People who motivate me. People whom I can motivate. And people who love me and whom I can love.

  7. kristen g. says:

    Awesome Bobby!!! Loved reading this!!!

  8. Julie Manriquez says:

    Bobby…..I so enjoyed seeing you present this side of you on your site! I remember you talking about your family back at Uptime in the late 90s, before we moved into our lives of building our own families. I feel you, my friend! My parents, sisters, spouses and little cousins all started getting together every summer for one week in Pinecrest (Sierra Nevada Mts.) about 12 years ago. We never skip it and with my parents in their upper 70s, every year is a gift…..xoxo

  9. Kelvin Howell says:

    Nice Post B…. I know where you’re coming from. We came from the same background and I agree with you when you talk about making time for family and friends. I wish I could get back more to NC and VA to see the family, but thank goodness for Skype… Don’t be surprised if me, Jordyn and Kaeden show up on your doorstep in the near future. Love you B… Keep doing your thing, we all love you man…

    • bbluford says:

      Man, I’d love that. Our kids are getting so big, man. It’s crazy! It seems like just yesterday we were young entrepreneurs trying to make a dollar bagging groceries, huh?

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