The Wisdom We Gain From Confronting Our Mortality

We all know that someday we will die. And while we know this in an intellectual way from a young age, I believe we only know it in a visceral way when we (or someone we love) receive a life-altering diagnosis. As a culture, we are collectively very good at disregarding this truth of death.

I knew my first husband, Ahmad, would die someday. And because he was older than me, and because men generally have shorter lifespans, I expected that I would outlive him.

But I never expected it to be so soon

I had a vague notion of being very old many years from now. And because we would both be old, death would not be much of a surprise nor too difficult to face. But when, out of the blue, we were hit with a terminal bladder cancer prognosis of eight months to two or three years, we confronted mortality unexpectedly.

And the only way out was through.

Living in the moment

This is when we came to truly understand “living in the moment.” This is when we realized the only thing we can control is how we view and act in this current moment. That’s it. Nothing else. All the wishing, crying, praying, hoping, lamenting, didn’t change that.

We face the reality of death only when it is forced upon us. A thought that occurred to me many times in those difficult days was this: any of us could die at any time for any reason. I could be healthy and walk outside and get hit by a bus.

Somehow, I found comfort in this thought because it made the cancer prognosis seem less awful.

Confronting the reality of the diagnosis

We become deeply cognizant of the reality of death only when faced with a terminal diagnosis or a sudden death. We don’t realize that we have been living all along with the possibility of death. We just had the luxury of not being forced to think about it.

And so, whether we are sick or well, is it possible to learn to live as if our “now” is all we have? Is it possible, amidst our daily annoyances and busy minds, to recognize that this is our life? This, the here and now, is all it really is. And that the quality of our mood, our thoughts, our actions, can cause us to feel amazing and project that into the world? Or they can cause us to feel harassed and annoyed?

The possibility of bringing our best selves forward

Cancer is not a gift. Everything does not happen for a reason. I (and most cancer patients and caregivers I know) are ready to scream when these platitudes are offered as “comfort.”

But I do wonder if it is possible – whether we are in the trenches of cancer or lucky enough not to be – to view each moment as a possibility. To bring our best self – our happiest and kindest self, our most inspired self – to each moment.

This would be a gift to ourselves and anyone we encounter

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