I have an old friend who is living with ALS. This means, of course, that he is also dying of ALS. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a devastating illness and always fatal.
But then, so is life.
Not devastating, necessarily, but always fatal. I don’t say this to be flip. I say it to acknowledge the stark reality that we all do die. No way around it. Nobody gets out alive. My dad lived a good, long-enough life before he died this year. But his death continues to remind me, day by day, to live. This is my life. What do I want to do before it’s over? I’m also reading a book now – or maybe I should say experiencing a book, because reading it is only half the game – which was written after the author’s step-father died just 37 days after a terminal diagnosis.
That reality made her ask herself – what would I do with the next 37 days if they were my last? And she discovered that she wouldn’t take a trip around the world or any of those things we speculate about – like our own personal make-a-wish foundation. What she would do, she decided, is enjoy the life she has more intensely and intentionally. Patti Digh’s book, Life is a Verb, invites the reader to do the same.
My friend with ALS has a site where he and his wife write updates about their existence. Sometimes the wife gives a blow-by-blow of just what it’s like to watch your spouse deteriorate muscle by muscle. It’s excruciating.
But often the words are full of humor and love and delight in life. Especially when the writer is Rick, the friend who is dying. Rick is a gorgeous, athletic, popular, successful businessman. He and his wife were among my ex and my best friends. We spent several Thanksgivings together, none of us really wanting to spend the whole day with our families of origin. We took weekends in the Adirondacks and Finger Lakes together. The girls would have our nights out together and the boys, theirs.
Sometimes after spending extended time with this couple, my ex and I would be relieved to be home alone. It fascinated us how couples adjust to their own tensions and eccentricities, while finding other people’s hard to endure. We sometimes thought we had the stronger marriage. Now we have split and they are walking together through the valley of the shadow of death. The depth of their love and appreciation of each other rings through their writing.
I ran into another friend this week whose marriage had been up and down for a while. Then her father died. Turns out that experience did not deepen her marriage. Her husband’s emotional unavailability became the last straw and her father’s death ushered in the death of the marriage. If you only have one life to live, what are you going to do with it?
I started this blog after my own marriage broke up and I named it for that wonderful Mary Oliver quote at the top of the page. When I stop and think, honestly, about the percentage of time when I’m actually living as if my life were a wild and precious gift, it gives me pause.
I’ve been on a five-year journey of discovering what the next stage of my life should be. In the meantime, I’ve had five years of living my life as it is. Sometimes I get so frustrated that the future is not emerging in the way I expected, that I forget to live the day that has been given.
So this week, as I turn 46, I want to declare: this is my life. It isn’t the life I imagined. It isn’t the life I used to have. It isn’t the life I hope to have some years from now. But it is the one and only life I have and I intend to notice it, taste it, relish it, enjoy it, explore it, experience it in all its craziness and joy.
As we sang in church camp: This is the day that the Lord has made! I will rejoice and be glad in it!