Waking up

As I drove through town this morning, I wondered at the faces I saw. People going about their business, making their way to work. Standing there, blank faces, such vacant looks. Not a smile to be seen. And it begs the question, are they really alive at all? Or are they seemingly dead on the inside, living life just going through the motions. For anyone faced with their own mortality it can seem such a waste.

And sometimes I think that the diagnosis of something serious can be a wake up call to take life by the throat and squeeze. Awaken us from the slumber of such a banal existence. Making us sit up and take note of what’s important and then go after it. Because we can take it for granted, can’t we. This gift of life that we wake up to each day. I think sometimes a good shake up can be a wondrous thing. And maybe a diagnosis is not exactly what we had in mind, but it works just the same. And in some strange way, it was exactly what I needed. After years of just existing, struggling through in misery, it was the fact of coming face to face with my own mortality that shocked me into living again. Kick started the motor so to speak. Rekindled my joy. Helping me to create something even better.

And I recall listening to a doctor whose middle-aged wife was diagnosed with a young woman’s cancer. An aggressive form with a not so good prognosis. And while he is always the optimist, he described her as the polar opposite. Many a night she’d spend in his medical library, scaring herself silly as she scoured his text books. Expecting only the worst. Cancer the focus of her every moment. He recounted how they would go out together for an evening walk and begin to plan a holiday. And the next thing he new she had swung the conversation around once again to the cancer. ‘I might not even be here’, she said. And he felt helpless.

 But one day he had had his fill of this focus on all things bad. And so he simply said ‘Okay, let’s assume the worst and that you have only 90 days to live. Do you want to spend it talking about the cancer and scaring yourself silly, or do you want to enjoy the time you’ve got?’. And he held his breath for what seemed the longest minute. How would it be received? But to his immense relief, she replied that it was the first thing anybody had said to her in months that made any sense. And it seemed to give her exactly what she needed to move forward.

Well that was ten years ago and she’s still going strong. And I think Joan Borysenko puts it best. The question is not whether we will die, but how we will live…

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