Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hello: Living Without Tragedy

A strange couple of words have been echoing through my head this week: "Okay-dokey."

These are not words that I use myself, nor words that many people in my circle find themselves exclaiming.

But this week they are the words the husband of a coworker of mine uttered when he learned the cancer in his body has metastasized to his brain and that he should start hospice care. "Okay-dokey" he said to the doctor delivering the news. "Okay-dokey" he said to the certainty his days are numbered.

I've thought about him often this week - and the matter-o-fact way he is facing his mortality - and I've thought about his wife (my coworker) who is likely walking down a path in her marriage that she never thought to plan for. I also thought how this woman just lost her mom, also to a freak illness that came out of nowhere and wiped away her life in the blink of an eye.

Likely, she will have lost both her Mom and her husband before Thanksgiving, just a few weeks apart from each other. She will be forced to sit down to a feast and reflect on what she is grateful for, two noticeably empty chairs at the table, death hanging in the air.

The unfairness of it all just takes your breath away.

Her tragedy has me thinking about the ways personal tragedies inspire us or motivate us in ways that "normal" life often doesn't.

When someone passes away, their family and friends (usually) mourn their loss and speak to how important and wonderful the deceased person was. This is what a eulogy is - a moment to reflect, celebrate, honor, and love the life that is now gone.

And when someone dies too young or in a freak accident, you read in the paper how kind or generous they were, what a good friend and sibling they were, how they had so much potential.

When people are diagnosed with an incurable disease or have a near-death experience, you hear about "bucket lists," or the ways they will change for the better, the things they are now inspired to do. People who've gone through something like this are often more open to those in their life about how much they cherish and love them.

I don't think it should take tragedy for us to be honest with those in our lives, to express our deep love and gratitude for our relationships, and to be the person we want to be.

Thus I am spending some time thinking about living without tragedy, but still living the life we want and still being the best friend/sister/coworker/girlfriend/daughter/etc we can be.

Tonight I was driving to a friend's house for our Sunday night newish tradition of watching The Walking Dead, eating popcorn, and making fun of the bad writing and each other.

As I was driving, I got this overwhelming feeling of gratitude. Suddenly the day washed over me: sleeping in, an hour at the gym, raking up the blanket of leaves in my yard, going to the Co-op, watching an episode of Sherlock, baking some scones, making lunch for the week, and now heading to a friend's house. Honestly, pretty mundane. But as I drove the half mile to his home I was grateful for so much: living in a place where I have friends in my "hood" and can drive over on a Sunday night just to hang for an hour; having a yard to care for and beautiful leaves to rake into colorful piles; having a kitchen to make food in; having a great grocery store a mile away; having the time to do a lot of little nothing tasks that actually make me quite happy.

It reminded me of these moments I experienced while portaging in the Boundary Waters, when I would have the very heavy canoe on my shoulders and I would just start to think I couldn't go any further, when suddenly the canoe would almost feel weightless. It was always sudden and brief, but having just that tiny moment of relief made me push on a few more steps. It made me realize it was possible to have that moment of clarity and comfort during a very difficult time.

I was brought back to this moment tonight as I drove to my friend's and felt myself fill with gratitude, out of the blue. It was like the world had been pushing on me all week, and suddenly something opened up to remind me the little ways I have nothing weighing on me, the many ways I am blessed.

To live without tragedy and still be able to be grateful for the leaves you are raking, the scones you are burning in the oven, the coleslaw you are making up as you go, the day mostly spent alone until you find yourself laughing next to a friend...this is when I feel truly lucky. To live without tragedy and still be able to see the gift of my not-so-extraordinary life.

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