Contemplating life and death have become a pursuit the past seven years where I catalog my life “before 2009” and “since 2009”. I wear many visible scars on my skin, but my close companions are the collection of invisible marks on my heart and soul. They remind me daily of my seven year journey along this path of wonder. Tasting my own mortality twice during the summer of 2009 like a rare and priceless vintage, changed my life in the blink of an eye. How arrogant was I to take each day for granted? How short sighted not to drink from each day like a thirsty man crawling thru the endless desert sand until he stumbles upon the oasis at high noon?
I allowed the mundane to drone out my early belief that we all have wings if we allow ourselves to fly. Initially fearless in my pursuit of sucking life’s marrow, I got sidetracked and chased the desire to fit in and belong. I wanted to be the white picket fence and pretended that my unseen wounds carved early by life could be camouflaged into obscurity.
The universe was kind to tap me on the shoulder twice for attention. I do think it over reacted a tad and one tap would have gotten the job done. Cancer and a heart attack thirty days apart were a little extreme. However, I suspect that the energy of the universe understood they had to hit me hard with their best shot.
A cancer diagnosis at age forty-two with two young kids was certainly a curve ball I never saw coming. But then both cricket and baseball are sports I know little about. Except for my surgery scar on my right breast, the majority of my breast cancer wounds occurred in my soul. Once beyond the initial cancer treatments, the mind games started. Will it come back? Will it come back somewhere else in my body? I didn’t have a double mastectomy because I like my breasts and cutting them both off seemed a little radical. But each day I look at my right breast as a traitor and my left breast as a potential bomb. Seven years later I do breathe a little easier. My chance to carry a “10+ year cancer” survival banner is looking pretty good!
My heart attack was a little more in your face. Particularly because I was in Peru and my kids saw me hooked up to a bunch of tubes and machines in an intensive care unit. Darn it. Can we not treat a heart attack in a more subtle way? Like cancer? When your heart stops, your life stops. End of story. It sucks. You are here and then you are gone. Very little exit strategy and even less time. You’ve gotta go. Right now. My two cents . . . it’s a bit harsh. My heart scars have made me pause at life’s signposts often.
Death and living are part of the human condition. Regardless of wealth, fame, success and fortune, when it comes to our end we are all equal. We shall leave. It just depends how. Cancer afforded me the luxury of time to say goodbye and go gently into the night. The other option was to take my last breath with my next breath and it terrified me. It still does every day. I will never be able to remove the trauma that the summer of 2009 dished up. It adds urgency to my day and an unreasonable burden on those that share my life. I’m crawling thru my sand everyday.
Several close friends are dealing with the weight of watching aged parents reach the end of their life. Having no parents, it’s an experience I will never have and I envy the innocence that it brings to conclude a great life in the cycle of time. As painful as it must be to watch your parent become a child dependent on you; it is the gift of a life lived well and one that was not felled in its prime. Death is not becoming to anyone and we cannot pick our carriage. But we can choose each day.
The little book by Richard Bach, Jonathan Living Seagull, has been a treasured gem on my nightstand for decades. I embrace the simple story of a seagull dreaming to be more than the sum of a gull’s parts and wholeheartedly pursue his passion for flight and is willing risking becoming an outcast. He fearlessly pursued his dream to soar like hawks and eagles on the wind. My favorite quote has always been: “Overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now.”
On my night stand I have an engraved clock to remind me each day “The tragedy of life is not that it ends too soon . . . But that we wait too long to begin it”. It was a gift from a precious inner circle friend who lost her first born in his twenties in a tragic accident. I can never understand the intense pain his departure caused, but I can embrace his passion for drinking life from a firehose each day.
I am reminded of life’s vitality frequently by the powerful whistled song of my backyard Cardinal. He flashes his brilliant red plumage on my fence and reminds me how our vitality and strength can carry us along this magical path of our humanity. Let’s all agree to stop worrying about the afterlife and instead, let us embrace the here and now. Let the Cardinal’s songful cheer accompany us on the wonderful rollercoaster ride of life. And let us gently allow our scars to mend.