“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
Tomorrow will be dying.”
~ Robert Herrick
I’m feeling a little melancholy tonight, something that hit me pretty suddenly during an otherwise positive week. The reason for this is that after I got home from our usual Tuesday night trivia, I checked my Facebook as I always do, and saw a post that shocked me.
It was a post announcing the sudden and unexpected death of someone in my relatively wide circle of friends and acquaintances. I did not know her very well, but people to whom I’ve grown close over the years did have that opportunity to share a genuine friendship with her. She was someone who I’d enjoy reading commentary from on Facebook, who was unfailingly loving and supportive to her friends, and really left a positive mark on the lives of those around her.
I think what hit me hard was not the passing of someone that so many people in my life knew and loved— I only wish such incidents were isolated, but the past three months have been filled with such shocking announcements and loss and close calls involving impetuous decisions— but that this person was someone to whom I could relate. She was an ordinary girl, around my age, who didn’t pass away due to any prolonged illness or a drawn-out battle with self-destructive behavior or because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was just an ordinary girl whose heart decided to stop working properly, and by the time help arrived, she had been deprived of oxygen for too long.
It is selfish, but I want to cry because I see how easily that could be me. I too am just an ordinary girl who happened to become ill, to have a scary period in life where her heart didn’t work the way it should. I take medication to keep that problem from recurring, but for a majority of a year, I was terrified of dying alone. My world is not one that involves me being surrounded by other people much of the time. If my heart stops, I will die. I’ve learned from experience that it takes 15 minutes to get an ambulance when you call 911. By that point in time, there is nothing anyone can do.
I feel sad because of how easily that girl might be me, and because I don’t want it to. I feel sad because of the loss of someone who made the world a better place is not fair, and it is a loss that so many will feel for such a long time. There’s something shocking about death when it happens to someone young and vibrant, someone who assumes they have a lifetime to chase dreams, to follow passions, to love others. It is shocking because it’s a reminder that it can happen to any of us, or anyone we love, at any time. There is not always a warning.
There is not always another day to tell someone how you feel about them, or to make things right, or to make the changes you need to be brave enough and strong enough in life in order to be a happy and fulfilled individual.
There is always the possibility that every conversation, or e-mail, or Facebook status, or night out could be the last one you’ll share with someone—or others with you.
There is no guarantee that tomorrow exists, for anyone, at any age.
When you’re 10, you don’t focus on anything too far beyond tomorrow, but you assume there will always be another one . When you’re 20, you think the number of tomorrows you have are limitless, and you take stupid chances and procrastinate and self-destruct, and still come out OK most of the time. By the time you’re 30, you start to have an awareness that not only is tomorrow not a guarantee, that every single being on this Earth, however wonderful and unique, is temporary.
I can only imagine how much more importance that knowledge takes on at 40, or 50, or 60.
I hope I am around to find out. It’s odd that I should wish that more than anything, coming from the girl who never planned to live past 30, who thought dying young never meant having to disappoint anyone or hurt anyone or fail to do anything remarkable in life.
The oddest thing happened. I passed that point in my life, and all of the sudden, life became valuable. Death became less glamourous, and far more frightening, and real. I didn’t want the story to end the way I’d always planned. Now, I can’t stand the idea that I’m not going to be here forever, because however much time I have, it will never be enough.
In “Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World”, Keira Knightley remarks to Steve Carell that she wishes they had been able to have more time together. He responds by telling her no amount of time ever would have been enough to erase the need for that wish.
I feel terribly sad because the relatively small part of the Universe I inhabit lost another special piece, and it doesn’t seem fair that there wasn’t enough time for her to truly live the life she loved. I am also sad because I know there will never be enough time, for any of us.
People often accuse me of being too straightforward. I say what I feel. I yell when I am angry. When I absolutely adore someone, I always let them know. I cry when I am hurt. I want every disagreement with a friend to be over quickly, and result in us still being friends. I follow my heart, even if it isn’t logical, even if it accidentally hurts others. Yet, I wish I had still more courage than I do to put myself out there, to take chances, to say what I feel, and do seems right for me. I wish I had more meaningful connections in my life than I do, because at the end of the day, that’s far more important than nearly anything else.
I realise that part of the reason I am this way is because I’ve spent so much of my life approaching it with a focus on the present, not the future. I didn’t want to be the person who endlessly planned for a future that might never happen, at the expense of experience and life that might happen today. In some ways, that’s irresponsible. That is not how we, as adults, are meant to live. Yet, in other ways, it’s realistic and showing respect and value to life, to the idea that the past can’t be altered and the future can’t be determined—but you can change your life, and touch the lives of others, with what you say and do today.
I know that when the day comes that I am not here anymore, it will ultimately be a surprise for me, and I will recognise that I still didn’t have enough time for all the living I wanted to do. I know that if I’m lucky, I’ll have more time than most people. I also know that perhaps I won’t be that lucky, and if I am, it will mean losing a lot of special people along the way.
Sometimes, I want everything life is planning to throw my way right now, because I don’t know what it has in store for me—and there never is going to be enough time. There is not enough time that I should feel I have the luxury of hitting the “pause” button, and thinking I’ll get around to dealing with life tomorrow.
I have seen bits and pieces of my future, in the form of various psychic dreams and visions. I don’t know how much I believe in all that, but I am not discounting the power of my intuition, a gift that’s served me very well throughout my life. If any of that is to be believed, though, life has unplanned surprises and twists and turns for me, and none of them involve dwelling on the idea of mortality.
Yet, life is so fragile and so temporary, it’s hard not to. Why should I, or anyone I love, be an exception?
When I think about it, there are a few people in my world I simply can’t imagine living without. They are very few and far between, but the world without those few special individuals would seem to stop for me, and I don’t know how it would restart itself in the same way ever again.
Every time someone in my circle of friends and acquaintances passes away, I remember there are a handful of people in the world who feel that exact same way about someone who is no longer around, and that sense of grief touches me immensely. I don’t know how or why, since it is not my own personal grief, but I have a tendency to feel emotions on behalf of others, and it’s not always a positive or endearing trait. I have to detach myself from focusing on many of the world’s greater problems and tragedies because I don’t have enough emotion to feel for every person who is suffering, and I inevitably end up trying.
Nobody is permanent, and that is perhaps the most frightening bit of knowledge I’ve ever come across in my life.
So, yes, today—I am sad, and cried for the loss of someone I didn’t know well at all. Perhaps I cried for me, and all the people I have lost, and all the people I will someday lose, and all the people who will turn out to represent a path not taken in life, a person who might have made a huge difference but never did. Perhaps I cried because I understand the magnitude the loss of this person has left on people in my life, and I do not wish that type of sadness on anyone. Perhaps I cried because I just don’t think it’s fair that we all search so hard for love and family and friendship and connection and romance, only to find out that every single one of us is a temporary fixture.
Reality is harsh, and sometimes it makes me cry, because the little romantic idealist inside of me has never been quite ready to handle such harsh truths.
I’d like to go on pretending there are endless tomorrows for as long as I possibly can. Yet, I think I passed that point in my life a long time ago.
I hope there is a tomorrow, and that it is just a little happier.