Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What if this were really "it?" - thoughts on 2012

Exactly ten years ago, one Saturday morning in December, I woke up knowing I was going to die.  I still know I'm going to die, but the feeling that morning was that Death was more than imminent, it was a granite-hard Presence that was simply THERE, filling up all the available space in the room. 

I had no idea what to think.  Ten years younger than I am now, I was on my winter hiatus from running 7.5 miles six times a week.  I was healthy, I was strong.  But this feeling - final, implacable and inevitable - had weight.  It wasn't my imagination....it was as real as I was.  The only thing that could get me, I reasoned, was a car accident.  And I had a lot running around to do that day, just a few weeks before Christmas. 

I remember doing some very fast thinking in the shower that morning, running through stages of grief outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.  I didn't have time for denial and anger, I remember thinking.  Yeah, dying today would sure suck, but so would dying on any other day.   At least I had fair warning.  If I really were going to die that day, I decided I could spend whatever hours I had left with the people I loved the most, doing things with them and for them.  And most importantly, I could savor the richness and sweetness and fullness of everyday, ordinary life... for as many hours as I had left, I could, in the words of Emily Gibbs, "just be."

And so I did.  What's interesting to me, looking back, and remembering that twenty-four hour period that Death hung over me like an elephant on my back, is how sharp and clear the memories are of that day, how much I accomplished, how fully I lived.  I didn't do much differently than what I had planned...it was right before the holidays and I had shopping and baking and wrapping and gifts to make, besides.  As a sidenote, the feeling turned out not to portend my death (obviously) but that of someone very close to someone I hold very dear - someone who died in a car accident.   Why I knew what I knew is still not entirely clear to me.  The experience, however, forced me into a state of prolonged heightened awareness that contines to affect me.  Among other things, the experience enabled me to admit to abilities long buried and denied. 

I tell this story today because the papers are full of stories about the Mayan calendar and the fact it ends a year from now.  I think it's a waste of time to argue about it.  Whether its December 21, 2012 collectively, or any other random day individually, we all have to die.  Everything ends, whether with a bang or a whimper.  That day showed me the gift that the awareness of one's own death, one's own potentially immediate death, can be. 

I remember the day I thought I'd die as a day I truly lived.   

3 comments:

earthography said...

Thanks for the insightful piece. Our own mortality can be, as you have written, a wonderful motivator. Keep at it my friend.

Walk in the Woods said...

… on the topic of death …

I've said it before, and I'll say it again ~ there are no straight lines in Nature … so nothing is linear … there are no beginnings and no endings … just life … moving … always moving, always changing … and always always. :)

Kathy said...

Last month, I had what was probably a gall bladder attack while at a tax seminar in Myrtle Beach SC. I kept thinking, "If I die at a tax seminar, I'll be really angry." Then there was a fire drill at a recent tax seminar and I thought... well you know. Which makes me think, why am I doing this?
Thank you for your insights and support. It helps me every day.