[We are SO going to pretend that time has reversed itself--like when Calvin becomes Stupendous Man in Calvin & Hobbes and turns back the clock--and we're going to act like I didn't get waylaid in my countdown, what with the new school year and trying to find vegan alternatives to Fage Greek yogurt and looking for the matching socks or ANY socks, and that this last essay from readers in our countdown was actually published the day before the book launch took place last week which is now this week, if you catch my drift. Just play along with me on this one.]
"Every time I read one of the lovely essays about how others will spend their last 37 days, I think "this is it – this is when I’ll write my own" – and then I don’t. I think I get struck silent by the simple, raw beauty of those essays and know that mine will be far less eloquent. This, not incidentally, is just another classic example of the mind game I’ve played with myself for, oh, my entire life.
Truth is, I think my 37 days would be a messy affair. I don’t do well in times of crisis. So while I can fantasize that I might do all the things I’ve always longed to do, or say all the things I’ve always longed to say, or set the scene for my own death in just the right – no, perfect – way, I’m just not sure that’s how it’ll play out. I have a rich fantasy life, but the reality of things is always much, much simpler, and a whole lot messier.
The one thing I do know I’d do – write. I’ve always been able to write the things I cannot say. When I write, I can dig deep down into the heart of things, go to the dark places, be very brutally, gently honest; and I somehow even manage to unearth the wisdom I know is inherent in every struggle. I have never quite mastered the art of saying those things face-to-face though. I cry too easily. When I came home from college one Friday to tell my parents I was pregnant, I’d rehearsed the scene in my mind over and over and over again, written the perfect script, imagined every possible scenario, ready to handle the biggest crisis of my life to date with grace and humility. Instead, I walked in, said "Hi" and melted into a puddle on the kitchen floor.
So I’d write. Telling my parents I was pregnant in a letter would’ve been unfair, but if I’ve only got 37 days, sorry folks, the gloves are off. I’d write love letters to my children. They wouldn’t be as eloquent as I’d like, because for the first time in my overly-neurotic life, I’d probably actually override my incessant need to self-edit. They’d be a mixed-up, stream-of-consciousness ticker tape of random thoughts. "I love you. You are my whole heart. Change your sheets – at least once in a while." I’d leave little bits of my sneaky side behind for them to learn from. "If you’re quiet, and your father doesn’t *know* you’re still awake late at night, no harm no foul. When grandma gets up in your stuff about eating that brownie before dinner, sneak another into your room and relish every crumb of the thing." I’d try to think of all the little nuggets of wisdom that I ordinarily reserve for ‘teachable moments.’ "It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it – be mindful of your audience and you’ll always be heard." And I’d list every possible thing I love about them so they could reread that list when they were feeling insecure, ‘not enough’, sad, or afraid of their own power. My children have power I’ve never known for myself. They’ll need that list to remind them in case others don’t.
I don’t think I’d manage to hike Nepal (like my dad and I planned but never managed before his death). I don’t think I’d manage to finally finish those books I’ve been writing (where writing means, um, not really writing). I don’t think I’d manage to do much at all other than shut out the world, squirrel myself away to write love letters to everyone I love, and lie quietly with whomever wishes to lie by my side and be with me during the most terrifying time of my life.
It isn’t so pretty, but there it is."
-Laura Flynn Endres
I knew the moment I read this that I wanted it to be Day One in this countdown. Because in fact, what Laura says she would do is what I have done, that writing to our children, creating an instruction manual for them. I’m so proud of the fact that I did what I said I would do, one essay at a time.
She writes of patterns–that incessant self-editor we have in our heads. Find ways to shut it off. Your life is extraordinary, your writing is extraordinary–because it is your one wild and precious life, that very one. Especially in those absolutely mundane moments of making the beds and washing the dishes YET AGAIN.
Jump into the mess. The fact is that death is messy, as is life. As she reminds us, there are things we will never get done. As Laura says, "It isn’t so pretty, but there it is." That messiness? It is our lives.
A book will wing its way to Laura in Illinois, with my thanks. And so, this part of the countdown ends, with the official publication of Life is a Verb.
But to continue the dialogue, because I have learned so much about myself from reading these essays, I will select one essay each Monday to receive a copy of Life is a Verb–for the next 37 weeks. Please send in your thoughts in answer to the question, "What would you be doing today if you only had 37 days to live?"
I’m also looking for a way to capture all the essays submitted online, as a community lyric poem that we can continue to write together. If you have a tech solution–a suggestion on the kind of space we need to inhabit for that project–let me know.