What if you were told you had one year to live? Don’t worry–I haven’t been given a life/death sentence. But, I have been thinking about this a lot. Maybe the high profile suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain and the outpouring of grief people were sharing on social media made me think about choosing mortality. Maybe the book I’m reading by Nina Riggs, The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, made me think about mortality choosing us.
The Bright Hour is Riggs’ memoir about dealing with and dying from triple negative breast cancer. Her cancer was particularly aggressive and continued growing while she was in chemo and radiation. She and her husband were teaching their younger son how to ride a bike and she tripped and broke her back. The cancer had devoured her L2 vertebra. As a writer, I’d love to have been able to talk craft with her and discuss her process. As a cancer survivor/thriver, I’m just pissed. Pissed that this disease can be so unpredictable and take so many people before they have had a chance to live a long life.
At one point in her memoir, her husband tells her that he can’t wait for things to get back to normal. She responds, “Thinking that way kind of invalidates my whole life right now. I have to love these days in the same way I love any other. There might not be a ‘normal’ from here on out.” He thinks she is in denial about her cancer. She replies, “These days are days. We choose how we hold them.” I’m only about 100 pages into the book, but have been stewing, mulling, chewing over her finely crafted prose. It’s a good thing I have plenty of opportunity for quiet in my life.
Here is what I’ve been thinking about and trying not to think about: what if I had one year to live? For shits and grins, let’s assume that money is no object.
Would I keep working? No.
Would I try to run another marathon? No.
Would I enjoy running, yoga, swimming, and biking, etc. for the pure pleasure of moving my body in the world? Yes.
Would I eat well and avoid alcohol? Yes and within reason.
Would I take medication to prolong my life? There’s a toughie. I don’t know. I don’t want to choose mortality. Abstaining from medication that might buy me more time seems like slow-motion suicide. I suppose the side effects of the medication would dictate whether or not I would be willing to take it.
Would I travel? Hell, yes. Would I tell anyone where I was going? As tempting as it might be to just disappear like Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall, I’d want to see friends and family I haven’t been able to see for a while. I’d like to go to Australia with Jake and see it through his eyes. I’d like to go to Germany with Ute and experience her homeland through her eyes. I’d like to bicycle through Europe with friends.
Would I turn back time and say yes to opportunities I passed by? Perhaps, but only if I could still be Jake’s mom.
Would I do impetuous dangerous activities? Probably not.
Would I write? Duh. Of course.
Would I try to finish some projects like all the quilts I have purchased fabric for? Within reason.
Would I work in my garden? Yes. It is my oasis.
Would I move? Hmmmm. I’m not sure. I don’t want to live here forever, but if I only had one year to live and didn’t have to work, I’d probably fulfill my lifelong dream of living in France or somewhere else.
Would I write letters to everyone who means the world to me? Yes.
Would I get married if the opportunity presented itself? Yes, as long as I wouldn’t be saddling my partner with massive medical debt. I can imagine that personal ad, “Single woman with one year to live seeks life partner for short term assignment.”
What if we each lived as if today were our last day on earth? The idea exhausts me. The notion of trying to cram a regret-free life into each twenty-four period is untenable for me. However, like Nina Riggs said, I can choose how I hold each day.
For now, I’ll choose honesty, simple pleasures, nice chocolate, true friends and family, my crazy groundhog-eating dog, staying physical, and a nice glass of red wine now and then. I’d like to take a long road trip with Jake and see the federal parks. A long highway, hot wind on our faces, a cool soundtrack and companionable silence with hawks swooping overhead.