Life…and Death

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your

one wild and precious life?”

     – The Summer day, Mary Oliver

I have been thinking about this topic a lot lately. Not because I think I have any serious risk of dying anytime soon. I don’t think that is the case. Instead I have been thinking of death in a slightly different context. Cancer is scary and potentially deadly stuff. Fortunately for me it appears I am going to be one of the lucky ones, I had an incidental finding, early detection, and given a good surgical outcome I should be cancer free.

It has been 4 weeks today since my positive diagnosis for lung cancer. These past 4 weeks have been a time warp. Part of my evolving perspective over this time, as I have been working thorough my shock and denial, is that there are many gifts emerging from this bout with cancer. And these gifts are coming in all sorts of ways; time with family, friends, gratitude, perspective, etc. First and foremost among these gifts is that the tumor was found 4-5 years before I would have had my first symptoms. But “what if” this had not been found? What if 4 years hence I were fighting for my life with a 1 in 7 chance of survival?

I have won the life lottery. And like any lottery winner everything changes in an instant. What am I going to do with my winnings?  My experience has not been any different. It has forced me to contemplate the obvious question; what do I do with my gift of life? How do I give back, have an impact, and honor the fact that I am getting an opportunity that many lung cancer patients don’t get? How do I open my heart wide to life?

You would know the secret of death.

But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?

If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

     – The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

As a society do we deal with death in a healthy manner? Are we real and authentic? Or do we keep it hidden? In the shadows and only acknowledging it when it is necessary? From my limited world perspective, we don’t really deal with it. Or at least as little as possible.  To me the discussion of death seems once removed and separate from our daily lives. That was certainly the case for me until this diagnosis. I have experienced the death of my Dad and Mom, 13 and 3 years ago respectively. And I feel I tried very hard to be real and present through each of those experiences. Yet it was still a brief moment in time, and “they both lived long and productive lives”. And then, after a period of mourning and grief, life slowly went back to the normal routine, with that untidy business still hopefully many decades away.

The reality, I think, is that death is much closer at hand to all of us than we either realize or have the capacity to acknowledge. For me I can intellectually grasp the concept, but It did not have any material impact on my daily life, until recently. I have had brushes with death before, car or bike accidents, yet this time seems very different. This was not a choice, but rather a random lottery.

So what to do with this gift? How am I going to have an impact going forward? How am I going to serve others in need? How do my actions honor those who did not receive this gift? I don’t have the answers, yet I am increasingly clear on the importance of the questions.

It is only when

we have the courage

to face things

exactly as they are,

without any

self deception or illusion,

that a light

will develop out

of events

by which the path

to success

may be recognized.

I-Ching