July 22, 2013

Dying Was the Best Part of My Life. ~ James Gummer

‘Dying Young’ by Katarina Silva

My piss was the color of merlot, and the emergency-room doctor thought it might be due to renal cancer.

I sat in the cafeteria of the hospital after hearing the news. A strange calm washed over me.

For once, I wasn’t obsessing about my career. I wasn’t worried about the competition breathing down my neck. I wasn’t worried about anyone stealing every opportunity I’d ever worked for.

None of it mattered, not if I was dying. Everything was going to pass away anyway, so it didn’t make sense to worry.

The doctor told me to rest. If I didn’t stop bleeding on my own, then a urologist would look inside the kidney with a scope.

There was no way I was letting them put a scope up my junk.

So I spent the following days sitting on my parents’ couch, moving around as little as possible—hoping whatever was inside my kidney would clot. I couldn’t do much of anything.

I couldn’t pursue my obsessions. Couldn’t work. Couldn’t exercise.

I sat there on that couch and read, or watched whatever TV shows my parents were watching. But I didn’t have the normal guilt or the feeling that I should be doing something else. There was nothing else to do.

One day I went out on the deck to sit in the sunshine. It was late March and unseasonably warm. I listened to the sounds of early spring; birds chirped, a breeze moved through the trees and grass. I watched a mother robin build her nest.

I sat quietly with my dog next to me, my best friend. We were so still that woodchucks wrestled in the yard, unafraid of us. It was as if we were as much a part of their world as anything else.

A hawk flew above us. Hunting.

I was present in that moment. The world looked shiny and new, as if I were seeing it for the first time.

I felt as if my breath took in the whole universe and then let it out again, effortlessly. In and out, rise and fall.

But it was not to last.

I bled for about nine days and then, finally, I got back to my usual schedule. But even though I had stopped bleeding, I still experienced abdominal pain, and there was plenty of testing to be done in order to get a definitive diagnosis.

I decided that if the doctors told me I had cancer, I would refuse treatment. I would not go through radiation or chemotherapy. I was going to enjoy whatever time I had left.

I’d create my own world tour and see the pyramids in Egypt, Buddhist temples in Thailand, the ruins of ancient Greece. I would drain my savings and max out my credit cards to do this.

Why not? I was dying.

But months later, a doctor told me I was fine and that the bleeding and pain were a freak occurrence that no one understood. My trip was not to be.

He called it “angiomyolipoma” for lack of a better word, and I moved on with my life.

I’d like to say that I never got upset about life again.

I’d like to say that my brush with death made me forever appreciate the good things, that it caused me to slow down and savor them.

It did not.

In a matter of weeks, I was back to business as usual: obsessing, stressing and worrying.

So, no magical storybook ending. I didn’t write an amazing best-selling self-help book like Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now or a hit song like Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying.”

What I did realize is that—if I enjoyed dying so much more than living—maybe I should re-evaluate how I was going about my life.

Because it’s important to find moments of peace and presence in everyday life, moments like I experienced on the deck in my backyard. I’m learning to find these moments now, though I wish I had started earlier.

Traffic still makes me crazy, and I’ve gotten into some fights with my steering wheel since then. But when I see the guy in the SUV next to me at the red light arguing with his GPS and calling her a “bitch,” I feel better about myself.

And I see how far I’ve come.


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Ed: Dejah Beauchamp & Brianna Bemel

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