An Accident of Survival
I didn’t mean to live this long. I never really intend(ed) to expire either. We live much of our lives impervious to death and its lurking presence. Think about it. Nearly everything in our lives is designed to distract us from our mortality. Our work, our entertainments, our over-busy lives. We’re constantly on the move, on the run, using technology, vegging, vacationing, working, loving, hating, and the list goes on and on and on. This is not to say we’re completely insulated by the prospect of death. I’ve been on that doorstep three times.
In 1990 I nearly bled to death. In 1999 my surgeon told me another two hours and I would have died of peritonitis. A nasty car wreck in 2005. Today, I began ruminating on this subject. Not that I’ve not been here before, but this time I put together a montage in my mind of people I’ve outlived both years-wise and personally in my life era.
Anne Frank died at 16 years old. She was an aspiring writer. A damn good one at that. Amazing stuff she wrote in extreme circumstances which I do not suffer under today. Hmmm. Ritchie Valens died at 17. His star was rising. He had a whole life of potential ahead of him. I’ve lived with a life of potential ahead of me and I still own it. I should think about getting rid of that potential and make something of it…
Buddy Holly died with Valens. Ditto last statement. I play basketball nearly every day. Well, at least I work out on the court for an hour each day. Reggie Lewis died in his prime at 27. A key member of the Boston Celtics who had lost Len Bias just a few years earlier. Hmmm. I’m still playing…they’re not…
Jim Croce(30), Andy Gibb(30), Karen Carpenter(32), Stevie Ray Vaughn(35), and this list could go on for quite a while. Talk about people who would have stepped up and out and added something awesome to this world…John Lennon(40)…ok I won’t go on with the singers… I love music. I even compose music and write lyrics… hmmm.
Abe Lincoln(56). Now, isn’t that a kick in the butt? I’ve lived longer than Abraham Lincoln. Never thought about that much until now. He had a vision. He had a purpose. He desired to impact his world. I have a vision. I have a purpose. I have a desire to impact my world…hmmm
Many of my friends, Herm, Humberto, Jim, and a host of others are gone. People I never dreamed would not be here in this life sharing time if not presence together in my life. We were all supposed to be together in my heart and mind. Even though our paths stretched out in various directions, we were supposed to get back together at reunions, on Facebook, by email or phone. They were supposed to be here.
I find my three brushes with death curious. I realize I’m in the Twilight Zone of accidental survival. By all counts, my 1999 episode in surgery should have been the end. I fought going to the hospital like a balking mule. The ambulance ride is still fairly vivid in my mind mainly because the pain was so very intense. The events before, during, and after the surgery have taken on a new and different meaning and perspective. It was a complete accident that I live.
Ok, I don’t REALLY believe that, but the idea contains an element of truth. None of three incidents saw me heroically coming to my own rescue. In all three I was down and out. I did redirect my life after the 1999 peritonitis incident. These words are the product of that redirect. I took on writing full time.
That’s a lie. The intention was “full time.” The reality was half-assed. No, seriously, I took on writing with intense fervor and I pursued writing with all diligence of intention, yet I never really placed what I wanted to do with words in any “real” context. I’m a good writer. A very good writer. An award-winning author. Five times over.
And I still do not apply myself like I know I can. I still don’t reach for galaxies and nebulas (forget just simple stars) like I know I can. I still don’t take the extreme risks like I know I should.
Or do I? Each of the people I listed above who died before they completed their “missions” in life, would have loved to get more years, days, even minutes, I’m sure. They lost them as we all will. This concept, this line of thinking is nothing new. I’ve read many people who write about “live like there’s no tomorrow” and all that. I presume we all get to a place where we realize we will never accomplish everything we desire to accomplish in life and we do one of two things.
We quit and give ourselves over to apathy, sitcoms, and whiling away the hours waiting for it all to end.
We redouble our efforts. We prioritize our goals. We reach into our life experience. We step into something larger than ourselves. We step back into our dreams. We search out the mechanisms which will make things work in the right direction. We continue to collect our mangled selves from the dirt and dust we’ve fallen to for the gazillionth time.
And hopefully, if we work our minds and hearts well, we rediscover our peace of solitude, our thrill of vision, our passion for accomplishment, and our dogged determination to never surrender, never give up, always pick ourselves up no matter the severity of the blow that struck us down, and we rise each day with purpose. Action. Motivation.
I am an accident of survival. I can bail out of that thought process or I can believe there’s a reason. Some reprieve granted thrice over through no effort on my part. I sense I’m here for some reason. Each time I help another person claim authorship, each time I hand them their first copy of their book and they break down in tears of joy and accomplishment, I feel it. Each time I help motivate an author to strive for their dreams and their passion and they go for it, I feel it. Each time an author accomplishes their bucket list item and dies (yes, its happened in a most profound way… another story for another time…), I feel it.
Annelies Marie Frank wrote these amazing, semi-prophetic words – “When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived! But, and that’s a big question, will I ever be able to write something great?” Semi-prophetic in that her diary ended up being that “something great.”
I would like to speak for all writers, but I will keep the focus solely on me so as to speak in total truth. I write because I have to. I write because I know within me there is something bigger than myself. Within my heart and soul and mind roils words and concepts which may impact my world. Whether its posthumous or not is irrelevant. The bottom line is this – I know I have not come close to writing my best. My opus. My holy grail if you will. I know that writing remains trapped behind self-confidence and self-esteem issues which cloud my path and generate fears.
Do you struggle like this? Is this something your life reflects in its own special set of circumstances? Just because we don’t have a clearcut path does not mean we cannot make one. In fact, I’m in favor of not following the well-worn trails. I’d rather forge somewhere new. Something different. Something tantalizing. Something real as opposed to the cloak-and-dagger crap spit out today full of illusion and hollow meaning.
We need to say nice things to ourselves because individually, we truly stand as the only one listening. The voices in our head tell us many things, many if not most being negative. We need to change that dynamic. We need to self-talk confidence and positivity in the face of daunting tasks and fears and failures. Like someone said, (was it Edison?) each failure is just one more way that doesn’t work! Each failure is a lesson to learn.
Let’s not allow our lives to bleed out into the diffuse and murky darkness of time. Let’s not be accidental survivors over and over without recognizing each survival delivers another opportunity knocking on your life’s legacy door. Let’s not continue our internal voice set on negative. Say nice things to yourself. Build your legacies and your dreams into reality. Overcome the survival mentality and soar into the essence of life’s gift – we’re still here and we may still move forward.
Words for myself this 19th day of December, 2017. Hopefully, they work for you as well…