Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Among the Living

I have spent a great deal of my life thinking about death. Most likely because I have spent a great deal of my life processing the deaths of loved ones that were closest to me. Death has, without question, been an actual character in the play of my life that I have been forced to wrestle and figure out an actual relationship with. It is something I have both learned a great deal from and something I have learned how to live with. Living with Death. Talk about an oxymoron.

When I received word a few years ago that my childhood babysitter had been diagnosed with a fast growing cancer, I jumped in my car and drove 45 minutes so I could say goodbye. It's always strange to say goodbye to someone you love when you know it is for the last time in this physical life. What do you say? "I love you... Thanks for loving me... Are you scared?... Don't be... What are your favorite memories of our time together?... What are mine?... Do you remember when?... I'll see you soon..."

Yep. All of the above. You hug and laugh and cry and hold hands and stare into one another's eyes a lot. She asked me to sing to her. I did. Then she asked me to sing that same song at her funeral. I agreed. She died the next week. I attended the funeral and sang for her the songs she had requested. I was cocky and thought that I wouldn't cry but standing above her casket a flood of childhood memories washed over me and I was emotional from start to finish.

This woman had watched over me as a child. She had played the piano and hide and seek with me. She put flowers on my own sister's grave every year. She was only, like, 56 years old. She had a constant smile that masked a hundred pains that I'm not sure how many people in her life actually knew about. And she is the only person that I know who loved chocolate more than I do.

When someone dies it is natural that we think about death. What is it like? Where do we go? What is the point? And then we think about life. How are we living it? How can we live it better? And, yes… Why are we here? The roundabout point of this post is best made in a story that was told at her funeral. When my babysitter/friend was about five years old, her family moved to a new town. She wanted to have a birthday party but her mother told her it would be hard because they had just moved there and they didn't know anyone. You can't really have a party with no friends. She left the house and came back about an hour later followed by several neighbors. "Mom, these are my new friends. Can I have my party now?"

This story both delighted me and caused a shift. I had spent so much of my life grieving and in pain and stuck in the spin cycle of all my victim stories. Like so many others, especially those spiritually and/or religiously minded folk, I had spent FAR more time focused on life before this one and life after this one than I ever spent focused on the life I was living right here and now. Life, I realized, was a big, fat parade that was passing me by. And, for the first time in my life, that wasn't okay.

"It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live." - Marcus Aurelius

I began to ask myself a series of questions that eventually led to one, singular inquiry. What does it really mean for me to be alive? What does being vibrantly, joyously, deliberately ALIVE look like for me? And, was I willing to do what it would take to get there? Was I willing to look at what I needed to look at, let go of what I needed to let go of, for Life to finally flow freely through my veins? I was willing and I did what I needed to do. And then, as though Life itself became aware that I had finally chosen to live it, I instantly found myself surrounded by an orchard of brand new possibility blossoms in the most glorious emotional springtime. And nothing has been, or will ever be, the same again. Hot damn.

Do you know what being alive means for you? What it looks like for you? If not, figure it out! It will be the single most worthwhile thing you have ever done. Life is your birthday party. If it’s lacking something you want - go out and get it. Make it. Meet it. Create it. Demand it. Don't rest until you have it.

NOTE TO SELF: Stop being fascinated by near death experiences. Focus on having near life experiences instead. Just a thought.