In November 2012, I spent 7 days in a hospital room diagnosed with a sub-arachnoid hemorrhage (broken blood vessel in my head)
There was an older fellow about 75 in my room, who’d insist on having a smoke every evening against doctor’s orders. “I’ve worked hard in a factory all my life and I deserve to have a smoke. I don’t care if it’s bad for me! Its what makes me feel good!”
The nurses patiently put up with his curses.
Then there was the unconscious gasping man across from me.
About every sixth inhalation he’d gasp desperately for air as if it were his last breath. I remember counting. He looked to be about 80 years old. The nurses would talk to him lovingly as if he could hear them. Sometimes he’d move a bit when they talked.
He was a puzzle to me.
I couldn't understand why a man near the end of his life in so much distress would want to live. Why didn’t he just give up and die? Maybe he was just afraid to die… but I detected no fear in his paroxysms. There was more yearning than fear. I felt some affinity with him.
When I contemplated his fear, there was a sweet and longing quality to it. There was not an intense sense of aversion. After a few moments it hit me what the similarity was. It wasn’t that he was afraid to die.
He was afraid not to live.
His gasping was a grasping for life.
He had experienced what it was like to almost die, come back to life and feel the simple gratitude of just being in a body, able to gaze through human eyes out the window… to watch the wind blowing the leaves across the parking lot… to look in his children’s and see the unspoken love behind all the speaking…to hear a calling and a purpose in life and struggle to fulfill it.
Like him I was afraid that I would die without fully engaging in why I was here. And it became clear to me that the tragedy of life is not that we die… its that we do not fully live.
I sadly contemplated how many people die before their time, not due to some illness or accident but because it is too painful to live their lives with no meaning.
They miss that the simple purpose of life…
Life itself…is just living it fully.
…experiencing all of what we are experiencing in what we are experiencing.
How many people become like the curmudgeon, who in missing the fullness already present in life, try to fill their lives with something else…too much smoking, working, recognition, acquiring, drinking, distraction…
The mind wants so much to find a meaning in life that it overlooks what is already inherently fulfilling...
and if we don’t see it
we will find some other neurotic purpose to occupy us.
Life is Living.
And when we live it fully and then examine it there’s a gold mine of wisdom in it…but the living comes first.
I must confess...
I loved that gasping man.
(even loved that curmudgeon)
They taught me a lot.
I pray that they have recovered and
teach everyone they meet
what they taught me.
Be you to Fullness