When my father died 30+ years ago, I died too. I was 19. My biggest stress was finding my way as a college underclassman. I was upstairs in my room with my girlfriend, carefree, when a police officer knocked on my door. He told me my father was downstairs having a heart attack.
Whoever I was before that moment was gone forever.
A few years later, my hands grew numb hanging from a heavy rope on an obstacle course. The moment before my grip broke, I was a gung-ho soldier in the military intelligence corp, training hard with hopes of becoming a Green Beret. That fellow died in a training accident, reborn as a disabled veteran.
We received my son’s diagnosis days before his seventh birthday, days before a large party with his friends and their siblings and parents. Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. My son died that day ~ that is, the life I thought my son might lead was done, and with it the life I thought my entire family and I would lead. In fact, he was the same the moment before as he was the moment after ~ it was I who died again.
Last October, I was chatting with a friend on a Saturday morning. We worked together for years and shared a few hobbies outside the office. Both veterans, both around the same age, kids, neighborhood, … He was telling me about his evening plans as he wrapped up where he was. On Monday I heard from his wife that he had died Saturday at home. When he died, I died too ~ knowing someone so much like me was gone in an instant, his family left to sort it out and carry on.
My daughter is ready to graduate college with a calling to be a teacher. To hear her passion, she’s as dedicated to that mission as I was in my military service. Every time I hear of a new school shooting, shelter-in-place exercises with children, and with viruses threatening to move through those highly-social campuses, a part of me dies while she’s still alive.
The other day it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen an Instagram post in a while from an old on-line zen pen pal. Most recently she was posting photos of life in Rimini in Northern Italy ~ herself, her mother, her friends, the neighborhood with balcony signs with messages of hope as the corona virus ravaged the country. I sent her a message ~ no response. With just the uncertainty, a part of me died.
Here in the Baltimore & Washington, D.C. area, the match i lit. Over the last week, I’ve watched Maryland announce its first confirmed infection, then our county’s first, … A bit more than a week later, the state reports over 1,200 cases with 10-15 deaths total. People are asking when social distancing will end and people can go back to work. The President is arguing with state governors and accusing hospitals of hoarding respirators. Up until very recently, he was hoping to have churches packed on Easter, about two weeks away ~ this while my own simple calculations suggest Maryland will have more than 30-thousand confirmed cases by Easter, and the local press refuses to seek and report projections. As we shelter at home, I realize the impact the virus could have on us within two-weeks of contact ahead of any preventative therapy… Somewhere in there I died again wondering if I might have two-weeks left with anybody close to me.
Anytime our certainty or expectation is disturbed, we experience that sensation. Even if it’s walking into a McDonalds and finding the shake machine is not working or arriving at the pool with towel in hand and hearing the lifeguard’s whistle following a thunder clap, the future you had planned was confounded if it ever existed at all. They’re small-scale examples, but they resonate, no?
Maybe there’s no point in saying it, but I suspect that if we look under the hood we’ll see that all of life is like this ~ a continuous GPS box announcing “Recalculating route to your destination” while we navigate through thoughts of the way we assume things are. Who knows?
Remaining supple each and every time we die may be an entire life’s work, hardly a choice ~ though we may also all be free to find whatever lessons or meaning we like or need from the experience. Maybe we learn to fight to the end, to settle and find peace, to pursue passions, to deepen relationships, or to “live in the moment.” Maybe, regardless of uncertainty or outcome, we get a sense of the underlying machinery, that whatever you think right now, whatever you feel right now ~ it is all so very real and solid right now, but also so fragile and ephemeral, destroyed and replaced with a diagnosis, a text message, or a thunderclap… Who knows?
It seems this is a very valuable time to find whatever understanding there is to be found, even while life as we understand it crumbles, or is changed, or we discover it wasn’t much more than a dream…
For what it’s worth…
… and remember: Don’t suffer alone. The post is aged, but still relevant.