Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Realizing Life

The best part about being sick is that day when you can finally breathe without coughing, eat without vomiting, and think without feeling like you have an ocean liner run aground in your brain. Suddenly you feel how wonderful a full breath is. You revel in the magic of your lungs taking in fresh air (as fresh as it comes), sucking the value out of it, and exhaling used air to be renewed. The miracle of your body is finally exquisitely evident. And you realize others are denied the same happy ending. We were taking life for granted.

We used to avoid talking about death in our society. We liked to pretend our bodies are immortal and anyone who died failed a test. We spent time being sad or resentful. Scientists pondered, inventing artificial intelligence that just might be able to house our essences when our bodies succumb so we can exist forever. But are our brains all that we are? Was there a reason we were designed to experience life in a body that will self-destruct?

Emily Dickinson wrote, “Because I could not stop for Death/ He kindly stopped for me…” With COVID and its cousins mutating and pretending to be docile and then deciding to be vicious, we talk about death often these days. Of course, COVID isn’t the only path to death. All the old threats of worn-out body parts, disease, injury, and violence are gleefully active at the same time—sometimes as accomplices. After I recently lost two friends in quick succession and heard stories of so many others who are losing friends, family, and co-workers at this moment, I had to accept the fact that my husband and I aren’t immune and neither is anyone else, no matter how many boosters we receive or how much kale we eat. Do we moan or learn from that reality?

The best part about death is it reveals the exquisite fragility of life so dramatically, we’re encouraged to be impressed. What can we do with these moments before us? Many still scramble after manmade goals such as fortune, fame, power, or beauty. But as people age, we can see those goals are illusions, because misfortunes will still find us. Youth can’t protect for long, when it does. As I traverse my 70’s, I’ve observed that my body is preparing to expel my spirit by shutting down functions I thought I owned. What can I do with the functions I have left? What can I learn about life when they’re absent?

Some rush about, checking off items on a bucket list. That’s one route. COVID taught most of us that experiences are better than stuff and community is better than experiences. We want to replace the hugs and conversations we missed. We want to laugh and hear others laugh with us. We want to experience people—friends, family, and interesting strangers who teach us different perspectives. We want to stop feeling sad and disappointed. We want to feel and share love. However, we have to accept that human society harbors people who behave badly, hurting others and hoarding resources for themselves. They may always be part of the human scene…like disease. But we don’t have to be them.

Looking into the future, we can’t see where our personal horizons are, but we know they’re there. The answer is to live each day. Live. Touch as many lives with as much love as possible so that its reflection warms you. Laugh as much as you can. Squeeze out the best of what makes breathing worthwhile so that when it’s your breath that’s ceasing, you know you did what you could with what you had while you had it.

2 comments on “Realizing Life

  1. Frances Sullivan
    January 7, 2023

    Deeply considered and eloquently expressed thoughts. Thank you, my friend.

  2. sarahond
    February 25, 2023

    This is so profound. I feel your words in my heart and my head, Susan. You are wonderful and wise.

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