By Joe Lilli

It’s early Wednesday morning and my 2½ year old daughter, Mariana, stirs in her bed. I slowly poke my head around her bedroom door to see her hugging her little stuffed duck, and whispering, “Good morning, Mr. Pato.”

Poignant moments like these melt my heart. They are what make the writer’s life so special every day.

I seldom savored moments like these during the week when my older children were growing up. By the time they awakened, I was gone — fighting traffic as I drove to a job that gave me little satisfaction and no real freedom.

Mariana suddenly spots me and I quickly duck behind the door playing hide ‘n seek. She squeals with delight, climbs out of her toddler bed, and runs to me with arms open wide.

“Do you want to go on an early-morning walk with Mommy and Daddy?” I ask after a big bear hug.

“YEESSSSSSSS!” she yells.

Soon we’re outside. Mariana clutches my left index finger while my wife Adriana holds my right hand.

The morning sky is soft and gray, and filled with the waking cry of birds. A milky froth has settled over the Texas Hill Country. It is utterly surreal and beautiful — something I seldom noticed when I worked my job.

We slowly make our way down Prather Ranch Road because Mariana stops our procession often to pick yellow wildflowers, examine curled fallen leaves, or bend over to follow the frenetic stream of ants foraging for food.   

Behind barbed wire fences, cattle move silently through the gloom like goblins on the moor. The morning air is keen with the smell of hay. Within a few hours, though, the sun will burn through the haze, revealing oak and cedar-studded rolling hills.

When I worked my 8-to-5 job in the city, I had little time to enjoy my family and the outdoors. It was nearly all work and hardly any play. Those were frustrating times for me … and my family.

The writer’s life has changed all that … and for the better. I can work when and where I want. It allows me to treasure life’s simple, but oh so sweet pleasures — like an early-morning walk with my family — that leave an indelible mark on my memory and the memories of my loved ones.

Enjoying the writer’s life means I don’t have to burn myself out with all work and no play. It means I don’t have to settle for daydreams about taking off with my family for a week in the mountains or a week at the beach. I can actually head to the mountains or the beach whenever the mood strikes … to relax, refresh, and rejuvenate.

We live in an uncertain world. We never know when the darkness of death will take a loved one … as it did my first wife. Since her passing, I look back with deep regret that my job and the travel it required prevented me from taking her to Paris and Rome and other romantic places she longed to see.

Because tomorrow does not always come, I cherish the extra time I now have to spend with my second wife and my children … and the endless opportunities to fulfill their dreams and bring them joy … which the writer’s life so easily affords me.

Suddenly Mariana tugs on my finger and looks up at me with bright brown eyes wide open. “Here, Daddy, for you,” she says, handing me two yellow wildflowers freshly picked.

Yes, indeed, the writer’s life has taken me by the hand and given me a second life, one that is truly richer than the first.