Of all the Southernisms that I have heard throughout my Georgia rearing, this phrase has been one of my melodramatic favorites.
This is the way that I always heard the phrase at funerals, hospital visits and other opportunities for pensive reflection, “We’re not promised tomorrow.” But the actual Bible verse where the concept originated is phrased a little differently.
Proverbs 27:1, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”
As I searched for the origin of the phrase, I learned that Walter Payton, one of the greatest football players of all time, a running back for the Chicago Bears, was known to share the sentiment. His version was “Remember, tomorrow is promised to no one” and it is widely attributed to him on the interwebs.
He was clearly raised right to have such a wise outlook on the fragility of life.
Sure enough, he was raised in Mississippi, and according to the illustrious authority of Wikipedia:
“Payton was one of three children born to Peter and Alyne Payton in Columbia, Mississippi. His father was a factory worker who had played semi-professional baseball. Payton was an active member of the Boy Scouts, Little League, and his local church. At John J. Jefferson High School, Payton played drums in the marching band, participated in the track team and sang in the school choir. Outside of school, he played drums in jazz-rock groups.
His brother Eddie was on the football team, and Payton did not play partly to avoid competing with him. After Eddie graduated, the football coach asked Payton to try out for the team, and he agreed on the condition that he be allowed to continue playing in the band.”
Now that’s a boy who was taught to appreciate the importance of not only big life choices but even everyday choices, because you never know what tomorrow will bring.
I’m over two weeks out from my rib-cracking fall and, while my ribs are healing slowly but surely, I am constantly reminded of and tortured by the things that I took for granted before the unfortunate incident.
We’re surely not promised tomorrow, so be careful of what you take for granted today.
I can procrastinate like a world champion, but boy do I regret the things I was putting off that I now cannot do.
My great weed growing yard experiment was in dire need of attention as the bee feeding season came to an end, but I hadn’t gotten around to it, yet. Now who knows how soon I’ll be able to push the mower through the chaos.
My house was in need of a good clearing out, but it was never a priority, with other more exciting prospects taking precedence. Now I can’t even bend over to pick up a sock, much less move and sort and pack and clear.
There’s no time like the present, because we’re not promised tomorrow, and I sure do wish I had embraced that gumption before the fall.
As I watched my life flash before my eyes in that split second when my feet flew out from under me, I had the clarity to hope to avoid hitting my head and to remember where I had left my phone and my glasses so I would be able to call for help.
I was truly fortunate; it could have been so much worse. I liken it to the great John Prine song, “The Accident,” in which Mrs. Tom Walker and her beautiful daughter, Pamela, were hit by a man in a light blue sedan (who’d obviously been to a bar), after both tried to pull through the four-way stop at the same time.
“They don’t know how lucky they are…” Prine croons in the chorus, followed by mention of numerous alternative fates, most of which have nothing to do with the circumstances.
We’re not promised tomorrow, and our days are filled with near disasters, but we don’t know how fortunate we are that worse things don’t happen.
Remember how Mr. Magoo would blindly plod through dramatic near-misses, always with the same sunny and innocent countenance? He never stopped to ponder what could have gone wrong when he ran over that fire hydrant that just happened to clean off the mud from the pig puddle he’d landed in just before. He could have been killed!
Many Southerners I know were raised to fear the “whatiffas.” We were taught to so painfully and regretfully consider what could happen, or could have happened, that we sometimes forget to remember how lucky we are.
I am currently enjoying plenty of time to ponder the ramifications of my choices in life, while I try to recuperate from my most recent calamity. I have all the time in the world to hash over and chastise myself for what I might have done differently, and pile even more guilt and shame on myself by considering all the ways that it could have been worse.
But the truth is, I’m really very fortunate. I have friends to help me and I have everything I need to get through the healing process.
Who knows what tomorrow holds, so it is important to carpe diem today and accomplish all that we can muster. As long as it is safe and prudent, that is. You certainly don’t want to kill yourself.
In hindsight, I am going to work harder at accomplishing that to-do list every day, and to always feel grateful for what I can do, while I can do it.
And, Lord knows I’m going to take every opportunity to tell my people how I feel about them. I might not get the chance again. Garth Brooks said it best:
“If tomorrow never comes
“Will she know how much I loved her
“Did I try in every way to show her every day
“That she’s my only one”
Be strong, be safe, be loving, and be thankful, my friends. We’re not promised tomorrow.