Living in the balmy South, we take a few things for granted. We wear scarves as accessories, not as a necessity for warmth; boots are for fashion, not snow; and shoes and socks are rarely needed, as flip-flops will suffice. We may have a few cold days, but it's accepted that everything will be canceled and we can huddle on our couch, swaddled in our Snuggies, eating grilled cheese and watching reruns on TBS until the temperature rises to a humane 68 degrees again.
This is how I go about life. However, last week it occurred to me that I was leaving for Rome, Italy in less than two weeks. This was a trip that had been planned since last March -- 10 whole months ago. I knew I was going to need more than flip-flops while walking around the eternal city in January. When shopping, I would absent-mindedly look at warmer, sturdier shoes and think "those would be good for Rome." But it was 90 degrees outside, and the issue just didn't seem pressing.
Fast forward to the previous week when I realized, with a start, that I was leaving very soon and had no shoes to wear.
No problem. If there's anything this gal can do, it's shop on the fly. Hitting the town, I began my search, in earnest. After all, I had seen dozens of options these past few months, hadn't I? I would just find them all and decide which I liked best.
Only there were none to be found. It was only December, yet the winter styles had been bought. The only shoes on the shelf were dainty white and yellow spring previews.
As I drove around town, my frustration wasn't at the stores debuting their spring collections in December. My frustration was with myself. I had known about this trip for months, yet I had willingly postponed these necessary preparations.
It's a feeling you can probably relate to -- the birthday present we put off buying, the phone numbers we didn't back up, the "check engine" light we ignored just a teeny bit too long -- the feeling of misplacing our priorities and failing ourselves as a result.
Christ seemed to have anticipated our tendency to procrastinate because many parables in the gospels warn us to remain alert, especially when it comes to the reality that there's a journey all of us are destined to make -- from our life on earth to eternal life in heaven or hell.
One such story compares the kingdom of heaven to foolish virgins who were supposed to keep their lamps lit for the arrival of the bridegroom, yet they had not come prepared with enough oil. When they begged to be let into the wedding feast after arriving late, they are told "Amen, I say to you, I do not know you." (Matthew 25:12).
We just spent a season celebrating the arrival of Christ. It's nice to think of little 8 pound, 6 ounce newborn baby Jesus, snug in a manger, looking cherubic for the photos. It's more uncomfortable to realize that Christ will return, and we will be judged. This isn't fire-and-brimstone talk -- it's reality.
The conclusion of the parable of the foolish virgins warns us to "stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour" (Matthew 25:15). I knew the day and hour that I was leaving for Rome, yet I still made a significant failure in my preparations because the consequences seemed so far away. The day and hour arrived much sooner than I thought it would.
A wise nun once told me, "We all have a terminal illness. It's called life." Don't put off preparing for the most important encounter you will have -- the inevitable encounter with eternity.
Follow columnist Alison Griswold at twitter.com/alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.