Sunday, September 26, 2004

Smorgasbord: Live Like You Were Dying

Not to bring everybody down--and in fact, to hopefully bring some spirits up--it's time to talk about livin' right.

At services on Saturday the rabbi talked about How To Die. As he began, I could feel myself feeling uncomfortable, like, "oh no, this is going to be maudlin and cringeworthy and people are going to start crying..." But as he offered his thoughts on dying--and living--he really nailed an important concept that most of us do not think about.

In a sermon that deftly mingled Jerry Garcia, Woody Allen, a beloved congregant's passing, and country singer Tim McGraw (not your usual Jewish holiday fare, to be sure, which is why the rabbi rocks), the rabbi reminded us that to die well, we must live well. If you knew that you only had so long to live, what would you do differently right now-today-this moment? And, that being the case, why aren't you doing it? Especially since none of us knows when our number is up. Think about that question. Would you call your kids for no reason to tell them you love them? Would you embarrass your teenage son with a big fat hug at the mall? Would you quit your soul-destroying job and finally follow your dream career? Would you kiss your wife in the middle of the Safeway Aisle 10 just because? Would you tell her how beautiful she is even if you don't feel like being mushy? Would you make peace with someone with whom you are fighting? Would you forgive old hurts and move on because time and energy are too precious to waste on harboring anger? Think about all of the ways you would live differently if you knew that you were dying.

Now go do it. (Um, okay, you can finish reading this first)...

My worst fear beside spiders, clowns and public restrooms is having regrets. The thought of lying on my deathbed--or worse, careening into the ocean at 500 miles an hour from 15,000 feet, alone on a plane on a business trip--and thinking "oh my god, does he know I love him? Did I tell him recently?! Why didn't I eat the d*mn dessert and quit worrying about measuring up (or down) to societal standards? Why didn't I laugh more instead of being cranky?" You can think of your own questions that would be in your mind at that moment. And you can see why it's so important to live like you were dying.

I was sick a few years back. And not to make this all about me, (oh wait! this is MY blog! It IS about me!) but I seriously thought a lot about the world without me in it. What I would act like/sound like/be like as I was leaving it? Would I be brave? Would I rage against the dying of the light? Would I pretend nothing was happening and that everyone should go about their business as usual? Would I try to protect my parents by having them believe that I wasn't scared at all--so that maybe they could feel less scared? Would I smile for everyone who visited, but cry myself to sleep at night? Would I have said everything I needed to say and done everything I needed to do?

At that point, the only thing I could control in my life was my own attitude. I felt like I was on a speeding train and couldn't get off, and was hoping with every molecule (and stem cell) in my body that it would arrive safely at its destination. We were hopeful, we were optimistic, but we were also keeping it real. And "real" meant a 35% chance of dying, and a 50% chance of living but being heavily disabled by complications to the point of making living unbearable...or short-term.

So, in my usual keep-it-close-to-the-vest way, I wrote my own eulogy one night in the hospital at 2am. Put it in my journal and told one or two people where to find it "in the event of...". Friends, you have not lived until you have written a few words to be said at your own funeral. More unhappy you will never be. When you start. But by the time I finished, I realized that I had said almost nothing about myself in the entire thing. I had written 4 pages both sides about each friend and family member, what each meant to me, and things I wanted them to know. And I realized that it would be such a waste of emotion and of life to have them hear these things only when I was gone.

So I started writing letters to my friends, or calling them, or emailing them, whatever. And I told every one of them what they meant to me, and that "if things don't work out" they should never wonder about their impact on my life to the good. I felt full-on cheddar cheesy doing it, but I don't regret it. Because, honestly, should your humble author here get hit by a bus or spontaneously combust or shake a vending machine till it falls over and crushes her in her caffeine-desperate state, she has no fears that there are things left unsaid.

I have plenty of things left undone; that was never something I felt good about; that if today was the end would I be okay with having achieved what I've achieved. Definitely not. But, does everyone I love know that I love them? Yep. Does every person who has made me who I am know that they are the giants' shoulders on which I stand? Yep. At the risk of being proven wrong later, I can only say: Mission Accomplished.

Short Story Long:
My affairs are in order. I live--and love--like I was dying.

How about you?

1 comment:

Vigilante said...

Read & Re-read. Links sent to someone who will read this & re-read it.