"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Of life and death

Oh we never know where life will take us
It’s only just a ride on the wheel
And we never know when death will shake us
And we wonder how it will feel…
-Linda Ronstadt, “Goodbye My Friend”- written by Karla Bonoff

I’ve been thinking a lot about mortality lately, as I’ve done periodically since being diagnosed with my illness. It’s not something I dwell on, but it can be difficult to avoid considering the circumstances. I was reminded once again of the fragility of life by the tragic death last week of a young woman named Tanya, who was a friend of some folks I’ve met over the Internet. After driving nearly 800 miles from Colorado to North Dakota, she was within 20 miles of her destination when she was killed in a car accident. She was only 24 years old. Though I’ve never met her, I still sensed some very small portion of the pain and feeling of loss experienced by her family and friends. Any death is sad of course, but especially so when someone’s life is cut short so prematurely – when they have so much to live for, with seemingly so much time left to accomplish their goals and live their dreams. The truth, as Linda sings, is that we never truly know when our time is about to be up. I’m sure that none of the 3,000 or so people who began what seemed like any other normal workday at the World Trade Center on that fateful day in 2001 had any inkling that they were spending their last moments on earth.

Life's so fragile and love's so pure
We can't hold on but we try
We watch how quickly it disappears
And we never know why

In my own case, the realization that I may only have a limited amount of time left is both a blessing and a curse. Most people find the topic unpleasant to think about and therefore best avoided; I’m no different. Even the very word, "death", is hard to say, let alone acknowledge. But it's a fact of life as much as life itself, and each of us has our own way of coping with it. What is unusual for me (and others with a terminal disease) is that we have not only the certainty that it's going to happen, but also a rough idea of when – and more significantly, all this damn time to think about it beforehand. When one is taken suddenly, there is no chance for preparation, or reflection, or goodbye to loved ones. But with advance notice I have the opportunity to, as they say euphemistically, "get my affairs in order". More importantly, I am able to reach out to those people who have been special to me for whatever reason, who have touched me somehow during my life. In quiet moments, I wonder about what is on the other side, if everything we've been conditioned to believe about the afterlife is true, or if there will be … just … nothing. That possibility is what I find the most unsettling of all.

When I was a kid growing up in Massachusetts, one of my favorite after-school pastimes was to walk along the railroad tracks on sunny fall afternoons. Not far out of town, the tracks rambled through an isolated wooded area, and a fairly short walk would take me (in my mind, at least) far away from civilization. I loved the solitude and feeling of being “out in the wild”. I also loved to watch the trains go by, fascinated by the majestic machinery and sense of wanderlust that fills the mind of a 12-year-old boy. The tracks took a long curve out of sight in the distance, but by placing my ear against the rail I could hear the trains approaching long before they came around the corner and into view. To me, this is what my mortality feels like now. With my ear to the track, I hear the faint metallic hum that signals its approach getting gradually louder. Even though it’s yet some distance off, I know without any doubt that it will be here before long.

The conclusion I draw from all this, which is obvious to most people, is that every day – every moment – is precious. Whether you see the end coming or are blindsided by it, savor your time on this planet for all it’s worth. Don’t wait until tomorrow to be a friend, help a stranger, tell someone you care, enjoy all of God’s blessings. The key to being happy is no secret: relax and make the best of what you’ve been given, instead of constantly wanting what you don’t have. It’s difficult sometimes, but no one ever claimed life was easy. Live the fullness of the moment, for you never know how long that moment will last.

So goodbye my friend
I know I'll never see you again
But the love you gave me through all the years
Will take away these tears
I'm okay now
You can go now
Goodbye my friend



  • At 10/31/2005 09:45:00 PM, Blogger April said…

    Thank you for your kind thoughts concerning our friend Tanya. She is the kind of person that would feel the same for you. She was so sweet that way.

    Its hard to imagine what it would be like to have to try to understand your own mortality. I appologise if I'm being rude, but what illness do you have? I'm sure I could find it if I dug in your blog, but....don't feel as if you need to tell me, I'm just curious I guess.

    You sound like you're coping well thus far with living day by day adn enjoying life on a daily basis.

    Your post was really sweet. you big softy you.

    The pumpkin in the post below... hilarious.

  • At 11/01/2005 06:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Away beyond the blue
    One star belongs to you

    And every breath I take
    I'm closer to that place

    Away beyond the blue
    One star belongs to you

    This life is but a dream
    Go gently down the stream...

    Is nind se, Prabhu, kya mujheuthaoge?
    [From this sleep, Lord will you wake me?]
    Is swapan se, Prabhu, kya mujhe jagoge?
    [From this dream, Lord will you wake me?]
    Tum hi mai dubu, Turn hi mai uthu,
    [In thee I dive, in thee I rise,]
    Tere sagar me, Tum hi me
    [In thy sea, in Thee.]
    Tere sagar me, Tum hi me

    ~Beth Nielsen Chapman and Gary Nicholson

  • At 11/18/2006 01:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This gave me chills. Thanks for sharing.


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