My friend, who is an ICU nurse, rang me last week after her shift on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I want to share her words, as I think there is a profound message in them for all of us:
“…all the people I see in ICU with COVID-19, whatever background, race, relationship status, gender identity they come from/have/are—they all die alone, they pass over with only a nurse (stranger) holding their hand.”
Her words triggered a fundamental resonance in me—an echo of a profound truth about life—that in the words of Hunter S. Thomspon, “We are all alone, born alone, die alone…”
COVID-19 is the great equaliser in death, stripping us at the end of all that we have accumulated in life, reminding us that whatever we have achieved or been in life, whoever we have loved or been loved by, we enter this world on our own and leave equally unaccompanied by any of the things we have collected along the way.
That our hero’s journey (if we are brave enough to seek one) is ours alone, a solitary expedition, a solo odyssey, and even though our plot lines may cross and entwine with others, we are the only ones qualified to be the authors of our personal narrative. As in death so in life—we are answerable only to ourselves as we take our last breath.
“We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and—in spite of True Romance magazines—we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely—at least, not all the time—but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.” ~ Hunter S. Thompson
So why do so many of us invest so much time in making our lives acceptable to others, people pleasing, contorting our being into all shades of uncomfortable trying to fit in, making ourselves small so as not to offend others, and disrespecting ourselves and following our childhood conditioning through to our last exhale?
Of course as humans, we have an inbuilt compass toward security originating in our tribal routes, when survival was based on the need to fit into our family and community. By assimilating and reflecting the values of the tribe, or “being normal,” we were protected; by working hard to keep the status quo and avoiding risk, we maximised our chances of staying alive.
But these days, we have don’t have the same survival needs. Once we pass a certain age in life, our ability to thrive is much more a reflection of our creativity, self-respect, personal resilience, and, most importantly, emotional intelligence.
Yet few of us have the courage to fully embrace this. We carry on walking our path encumbered by our old programming: fulfilling other peoples’ expectations of ourselves rather than our own, much more heart-centred ones. Surely this is the biggest treachery of the self—to live in complacency and numbness, to create a life from the building blocks of other peoples’ expectations, and to continue walking the path that was never our true dharma.
Could this crisis be the gift that forces us to wake up from living a dazed life? A “this will do” life? An “at least I’m normal” life? A “not fulfilling our soul potential because in some ways it feels safer to live smaller” life?
Could COVID-19, as well as offering the insight, also offer the solution?
Maybe the pressure of this global emergency will expose the fault lines in our lives so that they may finally break apart enough to allow our light out and our hearts to open and guide us to back to our authentic selves.
Maybe the energy we normally use to keep the tectonic plates of our ego together will be furloughed into other survival instincts, so that what was held in place may naturally fall apart, allowing our true essence to emerge.
Maybe the tension of this world crisis will become the creative force needed to conceive the collective and personal soup in which we can find the wings of our authentic selves. To bring our identities back from “what we do” to “who we are.”
I believe we are currently being woken up to a new reality of life—that to be normal is to be abnormal, that the amount of effort we put into people pleasing and appearing average is energy better spent chasing our dreams.
Imagine what we could be if we freed up all that energy?
Would we finally have the space for the soul to shout loud enough, “I am here and I have dreams—big ones,” and for the ego to be open and present to hear it, and—here is the real clincher—have ample self-worth to say, “I am better than this, I deserve more,” and plunge into the sea of authenticity.
There have to be gifts within all the tragedies of 2020. Maybe one of those is letting ourselves crack open enough to become who we were meant to be, long before we were taught not to.
To know at the core of our being that to be the author of our own narrative is a fundamental cornerstone of fulfilling our life’s potential.
When we take our last breath, all the people pleasing in the world won’t change that moment when we finally have to meet ourselves at the exit point, look into our own eyes, and know that whatever happened on our life journey, we honoured our soul and can pass over in peace.