I walked out to get the paper half asleep the other morning, plopped down in the chair to eat a bowl of oatmeal, and scanned the news. An obituary notice knocked me from a half comatose state and shook my world. It also started my thinking about doing things.

I met Jim Pinkston during the spring of 2007. He and his wife Kathy raised mules, and I was fortunate enough to write a story on two of them named Pat and Pearl. All tolled, I probably spent no more than an hour and a half with the couple, but it only took that short time for me to like the man as well as anyone I’d ever met. Jim had a dry, quick wit. Although we’d never met, he began to tease me and give me plenty of grief from the outset. Then, Jim would grin from through that cowboy mustache to let me know that he was having a wonderful time at my expense.

At the beginning of summer Jim and Kathy nursed twin mules that had been born prematurely. In fact, they turned the farmhouse into a pre-natal ICU for the newborns. I’d gone to visit one Saturday with my wife, mother-in-law, and aunt in tow, but we missed the Pinkston’s. For the last couple of weeks, I’d planned to stop by to write up a story on the twins and the makeshift hospital facilities.

What shook me so violently that morning was Jim Pinkston’s picture in the paper. It was followed by his obituary. From what I could gather, Jim had suffered a heart attack and died suddenly. I sat stunned as I read in disbelief. Then I felt like the biggest jerk that had ever drawn breath.

I had allowed the opportunity to write another story about a unique character and good man slip by. What bothered me most is that my procrastination had deprived me of ever having time with a person whom I truly enjoyed. Sure, I had been busy with the start of the school year and other things that required my attention. Still, I could have scheduled the visit. In fact, the Saturday before Jim died I had told my wife I was going to call and take her with me to visit. I SHOULD HAVE done that. Instead, I put things off for another day. Plenty of other days would be available to go by the Pinkston farm and spend time. Now, I’m sitting here in a state of shock over the man’s passing. At the same time I am beating myself up for not having taken the time to do the things I SHOULD HAVE done.

This is another lesson for me along the trail. Each of us takes life for granted. We assume that there’s always plenty of time to do things with and for those about whom we truly care. Life sometimes gets in the way of what is really important. We think that visit to a parent or that call to a friend can wait. However, when unexpected things happen, we catch ourselves midst the grieving saying things that begin with “I SHOULD HAVE.”

I have few regrets for the time I’ve spent with family members who have passed. I made my peace with them long before they left. When my parents and brother died, I knew that I had been there throughout their illnesses; I hadn’t neglected to see them. Jim Pinkston isn’t family member, but he was someone I assumed I would have plenty of time to get to know and befriend. His sudden death leaves me filled with regret and guilt. Most of all, Jim’s passing once again opens my eyes to the things that are truly important in this world.

I plan to spend more time with family and friends. I want to make myself available to those folks who are so important in my life. Maybe that means making more trips to Nashville and Chattanooga to see the kids. It includes driving a hundred miles to Cookeville to see my 85 year-old mothers-in-law. That even means driving just a couple miles to see my brother and his family.

I can’t use the excuse that life’s too busy or that there will be plenty of time later to do those things. I don’t want to again say, “I SHOULD HAVE.” From now on, I need to say “I’VE DONE.”