“Life is a terminal condition. We’re all going to die. Cancer patients just have more information, but we all, in some ways, wait for permission to live.” ~Kris Carr
The word cancer is one that invokes tremendous fear and becomes the worry people have when things in their body just don’t feel right. We’ve all heard, however of people that have had a terminal diagnosis and how it made them choose life. Their diagnosis became their awakening.
How can we awaken on our own? How can we look death squarely in the face and know it’s coming for us … so that we fully begin to live? What will it take for us to choose life in it’s fullest expression?
We are so often caught up in the mundane. Living on a spinning wheel, day-in and day-out, operating without real thought as to the choices we are making. The choices and decisions become automatic and thereby less of a choice at all.
Philosophically we may ask ourselves what choice would we make if we only had six months left to live? But in reality, for most of us that remains a conceptual question until we get a diagnosis. It’s hard to take it seriously when it’s so abstract.
Until then, we may idealize our answer by imagining we’d quit our job, cash in our 401K and spend those six months traveling around the world. The reality, however is we’re more likely to spend that time going through chemo or radiation, clinging to every hope there is possibility for recovery.
The time to embrace six months left to live is now, before the diagnosis. Because we never know if tomorrow is the day … or next month … or next year. The reality is there are no guarantees in life, and death does not discriminate between the young or old.
We are lucky to be alive. When people complain how old they are getting, perhaps they should stop and consider the alternative. If you’re not getting older, you’re dead.
By not acknowledging the inevitable end of the journey of life, we fail to fully exercise our choices. If we seriously knew we only had a limited time (and we do), we might make a simple change of saying “I love you” more often, or a bigger change of leaving a miserable job or relationship.
When we ignore death, we don’t fully live.
Moving this knowledge out of our heads and into some sort of action can be difficult. Most of us can’t really comprehend actually dying. We know it’s going to happen, but really wrapping our mind, body and soul around this knowledge is something entirely different.
What’s left is doing our best to wake up to our lives as fully as possible. Maybe we won’t make the big changes that come for many after a terminal diagnosis, but we can start with small steps. We can begin by taking a realistic look at what we might do differently.
It doesn’t take a major life change to begin to appreciate the little things: the feel of the breeze on your skin, the smile on the face of a stranger, the wild flowers growing in the cracks. We don’t have to wait to start looking at everything anew, with wonder and gratitude.
When we interact with someone and realize it may be the last time we see or speak to them, we can be kinder, more loving, giving, and forgiving.
Day to day decisions of choosing to appreciate the life around us and not letting the drama of the mundane get under our skin simply takes practice. When we’re angry or upset, we can ask ourselves: will this really matter to me in five years? How important is this in the grand scheme of my life?
Time can be tricky that way. On one hand, thinking time is limited can help propel us to make changes. On the other, thinking we’ll never get over our heartbreak or disappointment can keep us stuck.
Life is ever evolving. This too shall pass is so cliché and yet true for both our happy and sad times. Taking action to change our attitude and situation to choose life might be difficult at times, however is within our power to control.
Our bigger life changes, like leaving a dead-end job or unfulfilling relationship, are best navigated through the exploration of our alternatives. When we feel stuck, we’ve stopped using our imagination and creativity to explore options. It may seem impossible to leave, but usually that’s a mental limitation and not reality.
Sometimes those bigger changes start with taking small steps in the direction we want to move. We stop complaining and start actually putting in applications for new jobs, or we talk with a
therapist or good friend about our relationship options.
Not waiting for a terminal diagnosis to fully live our lives is mostly about rearranging our priorities. We step out into each new day with an awareness that it might be our last and a commitment to live it fully and whole-heartedly.
We wake up to the understanding that this moment counts. We make choices that we can not only live with, but with which we can also die.