A dear friend, speaking to a beloved with little time left to live, asked about her illness. She didn’t want to share the disease’s name, to give it any more power in the universe, so my friend, being a good friend, wanting to give her the opportunity to share as she could, asked about her symptoms.
I don’t think I will ever forget her response. It touched me deeply.
‘Dying is the only symptom.’
Yesterday I was talking with a friend. She asked about my health in a natural segue from talking about hers. She’s been making the rounds with doctors lately as have several others I know. I realized that doing the age driven preventative tests and taking the assigned meds to keep me from developing something serious just isn’t on my radar screen. I lost the impulse when I didn’t have insurance for a few years and never really picked it back up. It’s rather strange. I do what I do, like getting a vaccine and booster, that was a clear yes, and skip right past all the do-at-this-age-or-annual stuff.
What I do and what I don’t do seems like nonsense to a mind, makes no sense at all. Call me crazy. It’s been said before I generally listen to what feels right and act accordingly. I wasn’t listening when I let them strap me down and insert the device. I was on the medical rollercoaster, and it is beyond hard to listen clearly when you are there.
I have a machine in my chest for the worst-case scenario, and I take two pills to keep my heart from going on a rampage and getting there. It seems, at least right now, that’s more than enough intervention for this lifetime. If I had it to do over again, I don’t think I’d do the mass of wires attached to a potent little box. If it is my time to die, I’ll die. If it’s not, I will live, live with gusto, explore what I can, learn and grow, and feel blessed to feel it all. I am ready to be done running from death. Whether I am or not, well — as in all things — I’ll have to wait and see.
After all, the only real symptom is dying. All the other symptoms are mere mileposts on the journey that we are all taking, like it or not, try to prevent it or not, accept it or not. Death comes for us all.
Years back as I opened my eyes from meditation, the room filled with people, millions of people. Each one had a date on their forehead — their exit date. I instantly knew that I couldn’t add or take away one second from the allotted time. And yet, I tried to. Trying was part of the learning curve, part of what I couldn’t not do. Rather curious, the urge to live is.
We live in a culture that worships youth and misses the exquisite beauty in a friend’s smile as she consciously lays dying. We kneel at the altar that we hope will add days to our lives and look right past the wisdom that comes with growing old, the magnificence of wrinkled skin, the willingness to consciously slow down and smell the roses, the beauty in the cycles of life, the joy in simply being present to whatever life brings, the primal potency of grief.
We celebrate youth and miss the precious transformation, the ability to consciously transition. We live lives running from the inevitable, trying to stay one step ahead of time, and miss out on the glories of aging, of precious teachings of illness, the portal’s openness in death and dying.
They have a divine role to play. They soften us up, remind us of our powerlessness, and make us receptive to passing through. They show us in real time the timeless infinite eternality that awaits. What a church they are! Living all of our life consciously, experiencing aging and illness fully, we don’t exit kicking and screaming but at peace, in gratitude for the marvels of being gifted a life experience, excited to see what comes next. Regardless of afterlife subscription, that’s priceless.
So I shall live. I shall live each breath until I die. I shall be present to all I feel, alive in ways I have not yet been. I shall not go meekly in resistance to my death but open my arms in wild abandon, embracing this moment, this chapter, this wondrous aliveness.
The alternative is just too sad to consider.