Someone I know, knows she is dying this summer. Maybe in June, maybe in July, probably not in September. What does it feel like to have a date, a general idea for when you are going to die? It seems like scheduling a C-section or planning to have ones labor induced.
With a pregnancy we generally know that birth will occur in nine months. This is not always so with this other metamorphosis, this passing from one known form of life to one which is unknown. Not everyone believes he or she will continue BE after death. Fortunately, I do, but what about this life today? How does one live, knowing his or her days are numbered?
All of the training, all of the focus in my life for the past thirty seven eight has been about living in the NOW. Not waiting for the right job, the right house, the right weight, the most money or the man to be present in order to be happy and living a fulfilled life. The only time for anything is this day.
It is not surprising to me that I began writing this piece a few days ago and yesterday the title of the meditation- for- the -day in one of the books I read each morning was “A String of Todays.” Today being all we have. The author of the essay I read is a cancer survivor. He wrote about how having cancer brought him face to face with his own mortality. I can relate, although as usual, I forget.
Nine years ago I took a serious fall off of the porch of my home and landed hard on my head in our concrete driveway. The fall and the resulting injuries happened quickly but were serious, life threatening and took nearly a year to completely heal. I spent two weeks in ICU at Cedars Hospital in Los Angeles in the head trauma unit, with a fractured skull and a brain bleed.
When I came home the day after Christmas, my recovery had just begun. It was slow and lonely. It was recommended that I not talk, watch television or read. My brain needed time to heal. They did not however tell me I could not write, so as soon as I could hold a pen I picked up my journal and began to write about what I was seeing around me. It was as if I were seeing it all for the first time.
Every thing about my life seemed to slow down. My speech, my handwriting, my walk, which was only possible with help. I had hours and days and weeks to stare out of my living room window, watching the seasons change and wondering if I would ever be myself again. What I saw appeared to me in slow motion. I had never valued my life and the simple blessings that I take for granted more than I did during that time. I came face to face with the moments that made up my life and the very real possibility of losing every one of them.
When I began to heal, the doctors told me, that I had been only a millimeter from death. I knew it was true. Even as I lay on a gurney in the emergency room after my fall, the Nero-surgeon had said to Tom and me that if it became necessary to operate to stop the bleeding, it would most likely be fatal. I remember asking myself, “Am I ready to die? I don’t think so.” was my answer. Still, every day, I forget that life is only on loan to me.
Sometimes when I am trying to comprehend life, I imagine I have been sent far off to a years-long, sleep-away- camp by a benevolent parent. Much like the students from around the globe that stay with my daughter while they are in this country to learn English. I am here to learn as a spiritual being having a human experience.
I think of dying as going home from camp. When it is time to leave camp I will say goodbye to the friends I have made, I will thank the counselors and teachers, I will take pictures with my favorite people, say "I love you" to everyone, forgive everyone, have one more picnic by the lake and say a tearful farewell. I can do all of that IF I know in advance. As of today, I do not know my departure date but I know for sure there will be one. I want to live each day as though it could be my last.
Now I think about my friend with only weeks remaining. She has a husband of many years, dogs, a home, plants she cares for. She has a career with throngs of friends, clients and family who care deeply for her and will miss her every day. I want to think of her as just going home from camp. I hope she has taken the pictures and had the picnics and said all of the “I love you” she can possibly say.
In the meantime, I am planning to go on a hike, play badminton with my husband, go kayaking and take my dogs for a walk. I am hoping to see my grandson’s third-grade play. I am expecting to go to my granddaughter’s high school graduation, I will pray to be up early tomorrow to see the sun rise, say "thank you" and try to remember that there WILL be an end to all of this. I want this camp to change me. I want it to count. I want to go home as an expert human being, having received and appreciated the generous gift of being alive right now on planet earth.
My life is so glamorous! It’s just not fair, lucky for me!!