Wednesday, February 13, 2008

If I Only Had Twelve Months To Live

If I only had 12-months to live what would I do?

I’d leave the doctor’s office numb, stunned. I’d stop and stare at the handicapped parking spots and wonder why I wasn’t given a handicapped sticker. Is impending death not a handicap? Does it not come with some special privileges? If nothing else a decent parking spot? A place in the front of the line? I’d continue to my car, still numb. I must’ve done something horrific in a previous life. This must be hell. Once home I’d break down, sobbing, snot rolling down my face and wiped up with my sleeve. Like a petulant child I’d stomp my feet and scream, “I DON’T WANT TO DIE!” Then I’d start to clean. I’d make it into the kitchen and see the rice cooker with dried out crusty rice, a glass of half drunk lemonade, a sink full of dishes and I’d know I failed. I’d absolutely failed at this life. I couldn’t even provide my family with a peaceful clean living environment, let alone, teach them to provide it for themselves. The knock down drag out bawling would start anew. I’d resume cleaning determined to organize the whole house top to bottom and keep it that way.

I’d call work and tell them I was deathly ill and I could no longer come in, even if it wasn’t wholly true. I would not want to waste another single minute away from my family. I’d haul loads of stuff to the Goodwill; all but the most comfortable clothes in my closet, the old TV stand in the garage, the torn apart couch in my son’s room. I’d trade them in for any and every intact board game available. I might pick up a few books while I was at it, especially ones I could read to the kids.

I’d cook every night, except Friday which would be date night. My kids would rotate through the kitchen learning to cook. We’d make homemade pasta - corn tortelli with tarragon butter, crab ravioli in a red pepper cream sauce. We’d bake bread - chocolate cherry beer bread, ciabatta rolls and sourdough starts. We’d explore the world with our culinary endeavors; Asia, Russia, Africa, South America, India. I’d put a map in the kitchen. We’d mark all the places we’d sampled. We’d research these foreign lands as we cooked - the beauty of the internet and a laptop computer. I’d also make fresh muffins for breakfast and fill the house with cookie aroma every day after school. I’d start a book of our favorite recipes and attach little notes; anecdotes of our adventures in cooking.

I’d plan a trip to someplace exotic, someplace I’d never been. A place with a different culture and history and green, green plants. Maybe Vietnam. We’d go for at least a month. I’d pull the kids from school to travel during non-tourist periods. We’d avoid big hotels instead choosing small local establishments. We’d bury ourselves into the culture not just observing like visitors in a zoo but experiencing. We’d take lots and lots of pictures.

Of course, when not traveling, I would insist the kids continue their studies and attend school. I’d straighten the house while the kids were at school which wouldn’t take long because it was done every day. Then I’d take long walks listening to the ipod, Norah Jones, U2, Snoop Dog. I’d listen to everything but country. I’d always have one or two dogs by my side. They’d be off-leash, running up the trail to explore and checking back periodically. I’d flip off the old man who yelled at me about the leash law. I’d tell him life was too short to be such a crab ass and suggest that he get laid.

Afterwards I’d come home and write. I’d write every day, without fail. I’d write to my children. I’d tell them about my childhood growing up in the desert. I’d recount how I met their father. I’d tell them my dreams for their futures. I’d go to the dark places too; the time my younger sister beat me, pounded me, in the bathroom while my parents were at work; the time I opened up my cockatiel’s egg thinking it was a dud, only to discover the baby bird was still alive and me sitting helpless in the backyard watching it die.

When the kids got home we’d sit down together and do homework; me writing, them schoolwork. We’d make dinner and eat at the table. Tuesdays and Thursdays we’d go to family yoga, one that emphasizes meditation and living simply in the moment. Mondays and Wednesdays would be game night. Fridays, of course, date night.

On date night my husband and I would go to dinner. We’d linger over good food and good wine. We’d walk downtown, hand-in-hand, window shopping. I’d tell him it was okay for him to move on with his life. It’s okay to love again. All that I truly want out of this world is for my family to be happy; to live, to love, to embrace life, to accept sorrow and defeat with grace, to seek the beauty in even the darkest moments. I’d hope and pray he find peace and serenity, if not for his sake for our children’s.

Saturdays the kids would cook breakfast. We’d eat in front of the tv watching political shows. Then we’d head outside, playing frisbee golf, going to the park, hiking, relaxing at the pool. Sundays we’d go out to breakfast, walking downtown along the pond, feeding the ducks. We’d admire the swans, so beautiful and yet so mean. We’d agree we’d rather be a plain amiable wood duck. After breakfast we’d walk to the flower stand and buy a fresh bouquet for the week. I’d always have fresh flowers in my house. Sunday afternoons would be reserved for reading; each person their own book. Drawing would also be allowed. Sunday nights - music, an instrument for everyone. Let the neighbors suffer. Life's too short to care.

I've just described my ideal twelve months. If I were truly sick I'd probably not be able to do all the things I'd like (except maybe quit my job). Now is the time to make a change. My real life is far from this ideal. But for two days in a row I’ve written something down. Last night my son helped to make dinner. My bedroom and bathroom are clean. The laundry is in reasonable proximity to being finished. There are fresh flowers on my table. Baby steps towards the life I want to live. I need to live my best life today. Because, really, I could die tomorrow. Thank you Jen B. for the reality check. You are more amazing than you’ll ever know.


Ingrid said...

What a wonderful post, Shalet, and so inspiring! This really resonated with me, too... maybe not the cleaning bit ;) but the idea of trying to inch closer to some ideal vision of life. Congrats again on launching the blog!

Jen Ballantyne said...

Dear Shalet, thank you so much for your support and your lovely answer to my question. As I started reading your answer I thought "yes, yes, yes" this woman really gets it, the part where you walk out of the Doctors office, the part where you go home see the mess and let it confirm your secret fear that you're not good enough, pretty much a waste of space really (that's how I felt), you must have done something really terrible in a past life. You were absolutely spot on with your description. Those feelings you wrote were exactly how I felt and the thoughts exactly my thoughts. Then as I continued to read, I thought this is beautiful but not realistic. I was so glad to see you had added at the end that if you were really dying of cancer you would be too sick to do most of those things because, yes, you would be. I cannot go on a holiday for anywhere near a month as I need to be present for treatment, even if I choose to not have treatment then I would be wise to be near Western hospitals and doctors. As for the wonderful recipes and gorgeous evenings of cooking together, the sad reality is I am sometimes in so much agony and feel so wasted that my kids are lucky that I cook some chops with vegies, and I mean lucky because all I feel I can do is throw some toast in the toaster. To be honest, me cooking them vegies with a chop or a sausage or a chicken snitzel, is probably equivalent of me cooking them some amazing gourmet exotic dish because the amount of effort it takes me to cook at all is proof enough of so much love for them. Then the long walks with the dogs, well unfortunately when you are in pain and exhausted taking a walk around the block is amazing enough, if I had to take dogs with me and worry about them perhaps attacking other dogs then it just wouldn't happen, I'd never go on a walk. You get the picture. I absolutely love what you would do but I love more that you will do it NOW while you are well and able to do those things. I am so glad that you recognize the importance of this. I would love to be able to do all of the things on your list, I can and do do the writing part. You have actually written this brilliantly as it shows people the wonderful things they could be doing 'right now', yes they will want to do them when they realize their time is limited but unfortunately by then it is often too late. You just don't have the energy or the comfort of being pain free once you get to the stage where you have maybe 12 months left
to live and then decide how you want to live. Hence the reason I asked the question. So thank you, you are indeed a wise woman for highlighting the truth. Take good care and enjoy life, I am so very glad if my story inspired you in any way to live more in the now. Love and warm wishes Jen B xxx

Shalet said...

@ Ingrid - thanks! I am actually cleaning right now. Keep in mind, the only time my house will be clean clean is when 'ol Wilbur sprouts wings and flies past your kitchen window.

@ Jen B - thank you again for the inspiration and wake up call. I'll be thinking of you each and every day. *big hugs*

GailNHB said...

What a beautiful and inspiring post. I loved that you described a dream life - and then recognized that now is the time to bring dreams to life. And what a gift that Jen B read it and shared her perspective on your words. We all need to be living well and fully while we can. Every day. Thanks for this, Shalet.