Today Is Extra

     “Practice dying frequently” is family therapist Carl Whitaker’s advice on living fully. Throughout the 25 years that quote has been posted on my bulletin board, I’ve revised my interpretation of it from time to time. After having a foot in the grave, I’ve revised it once again.
     Awaking from a coma, in a foreign hospital, disoriented, I was reminded I had a physical body. Beeping monitors and flashing screens reflected the data of my existence. Large windows permitted visual access to sterile hospital personnel rather than earthy greenery or even polluting traffic. Oh yes, I had a body, though something had gone wrong.
     Something had been wrong for some time, but I didn’t see it. Denial is powerful. Could I have known before drastic measures were required? I don’t know, but I didn’t. That’s for sure.
     In retrospect many clues stand out. Hindsight is so acute. Didn’t I know I was miserable, or, at the very least, uncomfortable? My friends did. One gently chided me, “You think you know yourself so well.” Running my business and household, I stayed busy pushing on to the next day. Forsaken was the notion of anything being different, more or better than today. If some part of me knew, the rest of me was effectively rationalizing my misery and I plodded along, enduring. Not until there was data strewn around in lights and bytes, tubes and catheters did I snap to.
     Arousing to consciousness, my first waking thought, “Who knows I’m here?” While I could see other humans through the portal, I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me. Do we exist if no one knows us? Existential relief arrived as my sister entered the ICU gowned in paper. “What are you doing here?” I asked. She looked at me like I had completely lost my mind, which for a while I guess I had.
     Does it require a dramatic hit by a virtual 2×4 to wake us up to what is precious? Maybe so. Painful consequences of critical events is a common impetus for the people in my life, both personally and professionally. An urgent need to share, to be witnessed by others, a need to be known and to recognize ourselves in the knowing. Those events, whether psychologically instigated or physically demanded, create distress. Are we civilized humans so thickly armored against the magnitude of stimuli from media, modernity and mama, that our own senses filter out the personal, physical and psychological indicators of trouble? I was. Only when the choice was as basic as “do it or die” was I able to dissemble the protective devices and face, head on, that which I dreaded the most.
     I was the last to know how close I came to having both feet in the grave. Fortunately, with the help of those who “know me into existence,” I pulled out the one foot I’d planted, for a while at least. That dress rehearsal for dying has provided valuable practice. Dying to the familiar, dying to misery, dying to knowing or thinking I do. Practice, practice, practice dying. In return, living is more brilliant, and each day an extra one. Thank you, Carl.

Posted in Uncategorized on 06/09/2009 10:14 am

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