There’s a phrase I have a conflicted relationship with. There’s songs about it, memes about it, stories about it, all with one motto: “Live like you were dying.” It’s some kind of an attempt to get us to live in the present, to conquer fear, to jump off that cliff we’ve never known we’ve always wanted to jump off of. In sentiment it makes a lot of sense.In practicality dying sucks and is scary and is paralyzing. Soooo…..
Live like you are dying.
I don’t get it.
Shouldn’t it be live like you are living?
The thing is, this phrase, this nice little bundled up phrase that is meant to embody so much and get us to stop procrastinating in our lives is a contradiction in terms. We are sold death as something fearful, terrifying, end of days. Unless, we are religious and/or watched Touched by an Angel, then we are sold death as something where a handsome angel takes you away to a place of peace and beauty (DISCLOSURE: I had a super big crush on the angel of death, no I don’t know what that says about me, yes, I am terrified to find out). Either way, death is the end of this life. Live like you have no time left, I get that. Live like you need to show love in this life. I get that. But live like you are dying? Living and dying, as they’ve been constructed for us by the cultures we live in, they can’t co-exist.
How do I know?
For weeks I lived like I was dying. Most doctors will tell you the chances I would actually die were slim, and that’s great, but it was the fear of death and the lack of will to live that for me, constituted death. It was the loss of hope. I lived like a person fearing and anticipating worst case scenarios, suffering and putting a strain on the people surrounding me that I love.
I lived like someone who was dying. And I don’t have to cliff dive, or bungee jump (already done that – super cool, never regretted it, honored to have done it, super gives you a headache), or travel the world to value your time. I lived like someone who was dying meaning I sat in fear of death, curled up in fear of what might happen, avoiding pain, not taking risk, shoring myself up against the potential dangers and pain of life because the stakes were too high. I was careful. I was safe. I wasn’t happy, and I wasn’t well, and that feeling ebbs and flows with the tenor of the days, but I hid away from anything and everything. I lived like I was dying, because I was so scared to lose my life.
Part of it is just circumstance. My face hurts a lot and so does my head, and loud noises can shatter my spirit in the way they ignite shots of pain across my body. Part of it is that feeling that if I stay in the safety of my home, not allowing anything to pierce my armor, I won’t die, but less dramatically, I won’t hurt physically, and I won’t have to face, you know, anything ever. Living like you are dying? It’s not living.
Until you get to that point where there is nothing left to lose, which is different from dying, just trust me. You’ve floundered in all things and so what the the hell difference does it make if you try and fail? It’s worth trying. It’s not rock bottom, it’s just a point of quiet resignation that eventually leads to a beautiful acceptance of who you are in the present moment. But it doesn’t accompany this knowledge that you have limited time and you must prioritize and rationalize decisions. It accompanies a pursuit of passion in life. A pursuit of happiness in life. And happiness, while it can come in bold and drastic steps and leaps (as quoted in The Mindy Project as coming from Michelle Kwan’s biography), can also come in small moments.
Last night I went to a Pure Barre class for the first time in a long time. I wasn’t sure I’d make it. For me it was a measured risk to lead to living better, to living more happily, to living my most true self. I know that’s a lot to put on a one hour workout, but that’s what it was for me. It wasn’t a calculation based on an assumption of what I would do if I never lived another day, it was a calculation of what I loved and what would enable me to live in a moment of something I loved.It was something that makes me happy in life, it was something that makes me feel strong, capable, alive. It was small in the scheme of things, but for me it was a triumph. It was something I didn’t’ think I could do. It didn’t change the world (and while I would, in this life, like to change the world) it changed me, it changed the people I encountered and it mattered for that. It took guts for me.
So I went, and I made it through, and I am sore as hell, and for an hour I felt not like I was living like I was dying. I was living like I loved. I was living my passions. I was living my life and I was living what made me happy. Today, as I sit here with sore muscles and a swollen jaw line from perhaps my busiest day, I sit in pleasure and happiness knowing that I live like I have a life worth living, no matter if it lasts forever or lasts one day. I don’t need death to pursue life. I need life to pursue life. Even though that makes me scared as hell. Even if that means I sit on the couch today, in quiet contemplation.
The thing is, when I did/do live like I was/am dying, and when I was perhaps at real risk of dying, all I cared about was not goals, not success, not fame, not glamour, not achievement. It was love. I cared about making sure that the people I love, knew to the core of their spirit that I love them. In that sense living like you are dying is a real gift. That being said, I will strive to love those people as good, if not better, as I am living. I cared about laughter, I cared about accountability. I just wanted to make my family and family of choice laugh, and I wanted to make sure they were okay, in that moment, whether we had more moments or not. I have decided I will take time on my side as a gift, even if it forsakes me and takes me from this life tomorrow and I will live in THIS MOMENT. Knowing that if I do, each moment will lead to a lifetime of bliss, even once death comes knocking.
Someone I respect and admire once told me that love is “beautiful creativity.” What I have discovered is that in that love, that is where life is found, and I am surrounded by it. So live this life, in love and in light and in hope.
How’s that for a brain tumor lesson?! (DISCLOSURE: I think it’s just decent, but it’s a work in progress, like all things…)
Peace and love,