Sunday, November 22, 2009

Life is Short - Shorter for some than Others

A woman I went to high school with died two weeks ago. I learned about her death when I spoke to my parents the other day. I always have a bit of a shock when I hear of someone my own age dying. How is it possible? I am not at all ready to die. I don't know what her life's path was like really, other than what I would hear from time to time from my parents who still live in the same city as she did. Turns out she had a brain tumor - inoperable - fatal. The doctors told her to get her affairs in order two months ago. She was married, two kids and too young. What went through her mind in these last two months of her life? How terrifying it must have been for her knowing her time was up. Did she live those last sixty days or so like each day was her last? Did she wrap up her life like a tidy package to leave some sort of memorabilia behind for her children? I never ever ran into her after high school. I couldn't wait to get out of that one-horse town. That's how I saw it at the time. It was "no-where ville" as far as I was concerned. Once I had traveled through Europe at 19, I could never be satisfied with small-town life. I had bigger fish to fry, people to meet and places to go. I was "outta there". She stayed behind and created a life there for her and her family. She took the safe route. I took risks. She married her high school sweetheart and I heard through the grapevine that she suffered ill health in her forties and enjoyed her drink - maybe a little too much. Is that what killed her? Did she lose her joie de vivre along the way? Did the seemingly safe route steer her into an early grave? Sure, there was a distinct medical reason for her death. People will say she was unlucky or unfortunate. Her number was up. But I have to ask the question. Did it have to be? Was she so stuck in her life that she lost her reason to live? Did she let the grim reaper in? Perhaps even invite him? If you put any faith in the power of positive thinking or mind over matter, (as I do), it begs the question, does it not? In You Can Heal Your Life by Louise L. Hay, the notion that you can change your thinking to improve the quality of your life is worth considering. Hay explains how limiting beliefs and ideas are often the cause of illness. Hay would site the probable cause of brain cancer would relate to deep hurt and longstanding resentment or deep secret grief eating away at the self. Did my high school friend suffer from this? Could a closer examination of what was eating away at her have helped save her life? Perhaps by avoiding such a look inside her soul by escaping into an boozy haze she paid the ultimate price. Had she failed to find meaning in her life? In the book Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, author James Hollis suggests "the goal of life is not happiness but meaning." And "those who seek happiness by trying to avoid or finesse suffering will find life more and more superficial." He goes on to say "life is not a problem to be solved, finally, but a series of engagements with the cosmos in which we are asked to live as fully as we can manage. In so doing we serve the transcendent meaning that is meant to be brought into being through us...in fleeing this fullness of life, we violate our very purpose." Had she lost her purpose? Or did she never really understand her purpose? I cannot help but recall how vibrant and beautiful she was at 17. That is how I will always remember her. I can't help but wonder if part of her purpose was to remind me and others how precious this life is with her dying. Maybe she finally knows this...now.
"We all had that sense of who we were for a short time in childhood, and then it got lost. It is possible to get it back and to live a larger life if we are humble enough to confess that what we have been doing with our lives has not proved sufficient. The loss of alignment with the soul is both the origin of suffering and the invitation to its redemption." -James Hollis, Ph.D. and author

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