No one ever believes they’ll only have today as their last day of life on the planet. Instead, while clearly knowing we don’t live forever, it’s a concept that is only that: a concept. Until of course, it isn’t!
FROM WAR TO WONDER AND BACK
I heard a TV host (Nicole Wallace) when describing Brad Paisley’s recent trip to Ukraine to meet with President Zelenskyy, as reflective, meaningful, inspiring. Of course! But was it life-changing? Possibly, although I don’t recall that phrase being used by either one of them.
While I have had some, what for me seemed like life-threatening situations, I have no concept of a war environment having never been in one. Some experiences really do boggle the mind and are simply lost in translation. I wonder if Paisley felt that? I wonder if he felt his own existence at risk, his very life but was unable to articulate it. Being in a war torn country could possibly do that to a person.
THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE
As I continue to have seriously challenging health issues, it’s as close as I’ve come to catching the whiff of my own “last days,” though not a solitary one. What would the threat of that be like? I’m not sure any of us can know without the reality of that potential staring us in the face with certitude. And even then, it could be only a potential.
Occasionally I like to play a game with myself of “what would I do on my last day?” How would I behave, how would I spend it, what would I do in that time? And with whom? I never get very far with this odd speculation or fantasy because, of course, I assume it is not in truth my last day! Instead I always assume there’s more…including more time to plan my last day!
But as I approach at least a narrowing of the time I have left on the planet, I think more and more and more of less and less of this all-the-time-in-the-world assumption. How can I not at age 71 and with a chronic health condition? And yet, I continue to assume I’ll have at least several days—three days, four days, a week or more, months, maybe even years, continuing the pattern of no real last day.
No matter how much I know our bodies have an expiration date, because I believe I am essentially spirit I trust I’ll continue on after leaving this incarnation, this body. And yet I operate all too often as if I have the luxury of limitless time in this one. It is naïveté and denial at its ultimate.
Oddly, this foolish denial is even in the face of my body’s continuing breakdown as evidence to the contrary, that this earth experience is finite. It boggles the mind! As perverse as it sounds, I almost envy people who have some disease, usually cancer, who have been diagnosed as “terminal.” At least there’s an endpoint that’s suggested, though still subject to change when one is defined by a medical professional as to a specific last day.
THE SLOW LEAK
The vagueness of body breakdown through some disease process that is not listed as terminal feels worse, although having said that, how would I know? An ongoing deterioration still leaves far too much emotional room for death’s postponement! It’s as if one is being toyed with by God, the universe, or fate! It also implies a control that a person doesn’t really have.
I had an uncle whom I’d always admired. He seemed strong in spirit, tough in self-reliance and sturdy in mind. He was my colon cancer link. He’d had his colon resectioned (without colostomy) about 20 or more years before he actually did die.
HOW DARE HE
And then he took his own life! He was 93, only a month shy of his 94th birthday. Even though it was years ago, to this day I remain shocked, and I think mad at him. While he had always seemed so practical, earthbound, and reverent in his own way, the decision he’d made to call it quits remains a mystery to me. And while we’ve all known people who give up (or give in) it is a different proposition to “just surrender to the inevitable” by taking matters into their own hands. It feels like robbery.
For my part, I just continue on, tinkering with corrective surgeries one after another to fix or repair something that has seriously gone awry. Ironically I think I agree to these surgeries not just for quality of life reasons but for “quantity!” God help me! At one point I even told my surgeon “no more surgeries” only to “of course” rescind my own edict! I want more of life and from it. So often, even when I’m exhausted from it all I know deep I’m not done.
It sounds greedy but so what. I’ll postpone my last day perpetually, and even assuming the date of my last day on earth is preordained, I’ll do my part to keep consciously choosing life one way or another — up until it’s obvious I don’t have a choice that is mine to make. Surrendering really is the ultimate spiritual exercise. We always think we have control and influence over so much in our lives and rarely is that true. It’s more like we participate in the act of living and hopefully, responsibly so. Yet there comes a time when the slow leak of life accelerates and there’s nothing left but to surrender.
In the end my uncle was wrong about his ending. Yes, I’ll judge him though still with love and affection. While he’d left home at age 14, lived a long, productive and successful life through grabbing the reins of self-reliance, his life wasn’t really his to take.
Which takes me back to Brad Paisley, Zelenskyy and anyone catching the whiff of their human termination date, regardless of cause or circumstance. Paisley’s face did look quite pensive when Wallace was interviewing him. And it had the kind of look that wasn’t just about democracy either. It’s as if he lit on the fragrance of not just the concept of a potential but rather that concreteness of choice and surrender, potentially turning on a dime. And while this is pure speculation on my part, he witnessed through the prism of not just war but that of principle. It just happened to be in the context of war.
THE ODDITY OF BEING BORN HUMAN
We humans are a quirky lot. All our bravado and brains, ingenuity and fortitude, in the end our last day is not ours to determine though some people feel otherwise. For me, even in my darkest hours at times—and I’ve had plenty of them—there seems to be a fierce and stubborn reliance on living. I’m guessing that if I ever have any sense of a last day, I’ll be frustrated as hell.
But I could be wrong. That’s the thing: living always leaves room for wonder!