Topher Payne: A going-away party, reminding us to embrace the time we’re here


• GA Voice profiled Bryan, and the inspiration Margaret Cho brought to his cancer fight, in an essay by his friend Will Pollock published July 7, 2011. Read it here.

So I said, “Have a party,” and a bunch of other folks said, “Have a party,” and on Friday, there was a party. Bryan is blessed with an array of friends who threw a shindig together in 48 hours that I couldn’t make happen in a month.

There was a lengthy receiving line to see Bryan on the sofa, so I waited for my opportunity right next to the buffet, with the macaroni and cheese within easy reach. Because if we’re being reminded of how short life can be, then I want to make time for mac and cheese.

Chronic illness does not shorten your timeline. It makes you aware of it.  Bryan was informed the clock might be running out, so he threw a party. If he recovers (which could absolutely happen,) he’ll have the memory of a night when he knew beyond question how much he is loved. If he does not recover, then everyone in the room will still have that memory.

But not everyone gets a reminder about how short life can be. On average, 113 people die in car crashes, every single day. They don’t get a chance to throw a party. We fool ourselves into believing we have some control over our future, but in truth, the only thing we’re guaranteed is the moment we’re in right now.

The cynic will look at that unavoidable fact and say, “Why bother?” I look at it and am frankly relieved, because it levels off the playing field quite nicely. We’re all in this together, with nothing more or less than this moment. Suddenly life becomes so much more manageable.

“Why am I here?” gets a firm answer when you focus on right now. “Why am I here?” “I am here to buy cheese, because my husband wants tacos for dinner.” “I am here to pet my dog, because I like it when she goes ‘nnngh.’” “I am here to let someone know they are loved, that they matter.”

When you focus on the moment you’ve been given, making an impact on the world around you is so simple.

It’s often said that when people die, they wish they’d spent less time working. I’ve seen a lot of people die. Most of them said, “Thank God for work, or I wouldn’t have had insurance.” Their work friends came by. Brought casseroles and crossword puzzles. Work’s not so bad.

But I do hear a lot of people say they’d spent less time worrying about things they either couldn’t control, or didn’t need to. People who spend their lives making sure they’ve got rights other people don’t, or actively working against other people’s happiness… I imagine in those final moments, they wonder, “Huh. Was that really worth it?”

So. What would you do if you were told you may only have a few days?  Well, what makes you so certain you have more than that? Don’t worry so much.

Your life, and your legacy, is made up of a series of moments. Make them count.


Topher Payne is an Atlanta-based playwright, and the author of the book “Necessary Luxuries: Notes on a Semi-Fabulous Life.” Find out more at