I have a friend and former coworker with a couple of kids, one whom happens to be just a month or so younger than my son. She's vivacious, athletic, incredibly funny, humble and self-effacing, whip smart, and a gifted writer. She's one of those people who was 632 friends on Facebook and knows something intimate and/or funny about each one. Heck, she'd even "friend you up" if she half liked you.
She's also the last person, at age 35, that you'd expect to have stage 4 colon cancer.
Now her disease makes it easy for anyone to call into account her own mortality and to be grateful for life. Yet I contest that that state of 'being there' is momentary and fleeting for most, particularly for the healthy or those who have never walked down that path with Death. This is not to say that the healthy don't appreciate their lives, no, they most certainly do! Yet there is a hyper state of awareness or consciousness that my friend is experiencing that I too have experienced, and it's nearly indescribable. But let me try.
Ever paid attention to every little ache in your chest? ("Was that from working out, or is something happening?") Have you ever been conscious of your moment-to-moment breathing? ("Is it normal to be winded going up this hill or 3 flights of stairs?" "How long should it take to catch my breath?") Ever wake up with your shoulder noticeably stiff? ("Is that from sleeping wrong, or worse?") Who will take care of the dog?
Lights and colors are intense. Sleep seems unnecessary. You listen intently. Heck, one time on the way to work, I started crying on the bus because the morning light was so beautiful and bright and jaw-dropping brilliant as it streamed through buildings that I couldn’t. I got to work, tears still in my eyes, and I just sat at my desk and sobbed because I was so overwhelmingly grateful. (I felt foolish when a co-worker asked what was wrong, so I lied and made up some BS about being mean to folks.)
Today, my friend is going through the same thoughts and experiences. Every word on her blog is filled with a deep sense of appreciation and hyper awareness, dusted with her brand of slightly dark but lighthearted sense of humor.
Then I think about my health compared to my friend's.
My cholesterol is fantastic. A recent nuclear stress test revealed no blockages. And my Berkeley Heart Labs came back better than they were 2 years ago. I could stand to lose 10-15 pounds of extra blubber around the belly to bring down the glucose levels, sure, but God's renewed my lease for the time being. Unless a bus comes along, or a pack of pit bulls attacks whilst I'm mowing the lawn, I'm going to be A-okay for a while!
The word "grateful" falls woefully short.
Of course, the natural, guilt-laden reaction is, "that's not fair" and "what did she do to deserve this?” as if we all have some cosmic comeuppance coming to us for own perceived transgressions against God.
But I've grown to ask a better question, one that's helped me to cope with these times in life: "What's God trying to teach me here? What lesson does He want me to learn?" For now, the answer is simple and clear: ‘Be grateful for the life I've given you. Love me, and take care of yourself.’ I’m sure there’s more, but for now this is all I hear.
So I've been swimming in that deep pool of hyper awareness again. I look at my son and see how intimately he takes in every little thing, the joy he derives from every little touch (even the stuff he's not supposed to touch). I breathe in his hair and hold it in deep. I cherish his breathing as he falls asleep in my arms, and how he slurps on his thumb. Even his poop smells great! (Okay, sort of.) I look at my wife and feel overwhelming blessed to have fooled someone into loving me! I have a house! I have new golf clubs! Oh sure, I get lost in the trivial and mundane and I let small, stupid stuff bother me still (like hooking the damn golf ball!), but it’s only temporary and fleeting and I let them go. *
God's opened my eyes (again), this time through a very sick friend. I don't know what he wants me to do next, but I'm doing my best to listen. And I hope He's hearing my prayers for my friend. I'm certain He is. After all, He's heard them before.
*Mostly. Hitless hitters in fantasy baseball drive me nuts!