Sunday, January 23, 2011

Living as if Dying

This is another meditation  written in the past to celebrate the coming of spring. With low temperatures outside and more snow than we've seen in years, I'm ready for spring!

You have showed me great trouble and adversities, but you will restore my life and bring me up again from the deep places of the earth. You strengthen me more and more; you enfold and comfort me.
Psalm 71:20, 21 Book of Common Prayer

When I was growing up, I was taught that the Bible was God’s love letter to me, that I should therefore read it every day, that its words were written for my benefit. I was encouraged to “claim” the promises for my own, regardless of the fact that they were written by and for a people of long ago. The word of God was alive and applicable to my teenage angst, as well as to the larger problems of the world.
            Old habits die hard. I still read the psalms as if they were written for me. (Well, Saint Paul says they were in Romans 15:4, and goodness knows it’s a comfort to be able to agree with Paul on much of anything.) I hear a word of God spoken to me most mornings, look for it in fact, in works written more than twenty centuries ago. And I generally find something, perhaps because, as a psychology professor of mine once said, “All things being equal, we tend to perceive what we wish to perceive.”
            I wish to perceive both of my back-to-back cancers as medical flukes in an otherwise healthy life. I have returned to my original plan: living until I don’t want to live any more and dying quietly in my sleep, without pain, fuss, or bother to anyone. And so when I read this morning about a restored life, about strength and comfort, I hang onto those words.
            The truth is, there are only two ways to live: as if we will live forever, or as if we are dying. I have crossed the boundary of those two lands; I know I am going to die, know it viscerally, giving death the exigence it never had before my diagnosis. A few years years ago I was care-free, worried about trivial things—a cash flow crunch and what to wear to my brother’s wedding. Now I find myself jotting down notes to supplement the provisions of my will.
But I also find myself appreciating everything even more this spring —I am enchanted by the flowering quince, by birds swooping on wind currents, and by a raccoon that crossed my path and disappeared into a tree. I have always enjoyed the coming of spring, but not with the intensity of someone who spent three of four Fridays every month in chemotherapy, and who spent the days between treatments recovering and building up strength to face the next round. In some ways, I missed spring that year; I wasn’t strong enough to venture down by the river, and so missed the hillsides of trillium and Virginia bluebells. Now I am absorbing the bright spring green of new leaves with every sense I have, grateful for increased strength, for the restoring of life thus far. But never again able to take it for granted.

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