Life drains me merely from living it. My mind hovers over the idea of dying, a gossamer butterfly searching for nectar, then darts away to a more pleasing place. I have no disease, none but the ticking of the clock we try to mute with noise and movement, the clock that is counting us down to our ceasing whether we greet it a cheery good morning or not.
Perhaps it is the impending turn of another decade for me, a milestone that laughs and points in my face, daring me to ignore it. My years are strewn with relationships, all of which have taught me who I am, my character-built brick by brick as I struggled and failed and sometimes got it right. More often than not I failed but tried not to consider myself a failure.
My legacy, the one thing I know with certainty down to my core, will be my child, a young woman of significance merely by her presence. She reflects the best of me as she spins through her own corner of the world, a being that looks forward instead of back and rightly so. I was brought here for her arrival, and she embraces life, hugging it to her with the joyful exuberance of youth.
But now life sticks to me, a grainy quicksand that fills my mouth and nose, sucking the oxygen from my soul. My body struggles to pull me out of the quagmire, a dance in slow motion only partly visible to those around me. Perhaps I don’t really mean to escape. The minute details of being alive confound me more each time the sun comes up, raising its head to meet the day as mine falls forward, exhausted before the dew disappears. If the sand clogs my mouth, finally stealing my breath, will it matter that I don’t see the dusk fall? I can’t help but think that it will be a release, a relief to let it all go.
Any belief in an omniscient, loving God that once protected me like a warm cloak has long since been ripped and torn away, tossed on the pile of murdered children and souls somehow too good, too pure to walk with us any longer, all slashed down without reason. To embrace this overwhelming pain, accepting that there exists a God who could deliver us from it all, yet chooses to do nothing creates a complicity in the deceit. It shames me to do so any longer.
Eternity beckons, however, its presence just there ahead of me, teasing as it gives comforting glimpses and then runs and hides again. When questioned by those with certainty about God and his well-laid plans, I have no answers, no knowledge of my destination. Religions provide a padded cell of comfort for those who simply must know, even though that knowing is an earthly construction cobbled together out of the fear of not being. The life spark that resides in this disintegrating body is worthy of protection, of perpetuation, at least to me. But we have no way of running ahead to take a peek, to see what lies ahead, then scampering back with the information safely tucked away. Depending on that newfound knowledge, either nothingness or a glorious eternity, we might be sorry we peeked.
God and his minions have disappointed me too often to rely on them any longer. I can’t embrace the promise of eternal life in his presence, dancing at an endless celebration or reincarnating until I get it right, without also accepting his callousness towards us while we’re here. Those who do so are willing to engage in ugly myths, much like lying in bed each night terrorized by a father who climbs the stairs to ravage his daughter’s innocence, only to place his sullied hands in the softness of hers the next morning to bless their food.
We live with uncertainty hanging over our heads every day. The only nugget of truth buried among all the nonsense man has invented to ward off the panic is the fact that we will each cease. I will simply stop being here. My family will mourn, but I will not hover over their grief, watching it all from somewhere above, my ethereal presence hanging up in the corner taking roll. Perhaps I will never know anything again. My struggles will end and the concerns that plagued me will instantly fall to the floor to be kicked aside, unimportant and unnoticed by the mourners. After they weep for me, they will walk out into their sunlight and simply carry on without me.
The seductiveness of this quiet peace of death has altered how I view my future. Aging bodies and faltering minds wither around me, elderly parents and friends who shuffle and totter, their minds askew, the side effects of potions cooked up via a doctor’s prescription pad. The pendulum of technology has swung, its wide arc reaching a point where our ability to cure has its own deathly results. I wonder what we have gained by blindly drinking down their daily brews. We place our trust in these medicine men with their endless tests and drugs, only to discover the ingredients prescribed create their own destruction within our creaking bodies, bodies that are designed to break and wear out anyway. They might as well be shaking rattles over us and chanting in the moonlight.
These people who have sworn to “do no harm” to our bodies have somehow stepped over the boundary to controlling our souls. As I lay on a cold examining table someday, shivering in a gown half-gone, a self-proclaimed keeper of the secrets of life will deliver the dreaded test results, and a course of attack will be charted. War will be declared on my body, the “do no harm” now bastardized by its intention to cure me. The world of medicine believes it has the right to harm me as long as its goal is to fix me, even though the cure itself will kill me.
The end will still come, though, the silence will descend as the quicksand wins. The point of the exercise eludes me. A few more years of struggle holds no appeal to me. The quagmire of sticky sand will still pull me under someday, shutting off my breath and taking me down. My truest fear is a death drawn out, pain or paralysis pushing me farther into the pit, my release just there out of reach as my nostrils fill with sand as everyone watches. True terror resides in a broken body inhabited by a mind aware, unable to escape on its own or to beg for mercy from someone, anyone to end the nightmare. Perhaps many would want to fight, to struggle until every ounce of energy is gone, a tree drained of its sap, the lifeblood dripping slowly away until nothing remains.
But the result is the same, isn’t it?
My soul doesn’t want to gear up for this battle since it has little stake in winning the war. Imagine their shock as I take off their silly gown, thank them for their devotion to their cause, and walk out to enjoy the sunlight that remains for me. Their sentence of death is no different from the one that rested across my shoulders before their tests were cooked up and results delivered. “Doing no harm” means they cannot help me on the journey to my own eternity. It does not mean they can dictate whether I board the plane or not, an unwilling passenger diverted from its ultimate destination along a painful, pointless side trip.
There are those close to me who laid plans on their own behalf, setting the time and place of their ceasing. They invited death through the front door instead of keeping it at bay with the whips and chairs of tests and drugs and more pain, the snarling creature hidden in the dark under the stairs. Their very souls were choking on the sand, daily existence too painful to bear. They let go in the face of a society that condemns such audacity, the willingness to be no more regardless of what waits on the other side. Courage defined and acted upon.
We are burdened with expectations of how we are to live and how we are to die. Age, though, brings a willingness to speak, a recognition of choices that most will run from in fear.
The sand oozes closer and the clock bellows.
DEBORAH HANSEN – Writer, teacher, mediator, evolving human.