Living on Borrowed Time

April 6, 2012

And aren’t we all? From the time we’re born, we’re hurtling toward death on a non-stop flight, sometimes without inflight meal service or drinks. There is no way to divert this flight to another destination. This fragile thing we call life is going to end somewhere, someday.

Maybe I’m weird, but I’m totally okay with that. I don’t have any strong religious faith that I’m going to end up at the Pearly Gates with a harp in my hands. I only have the faith that I’ve lived my life as fully as I could and will continue to do so until my heart stops beating. The only advantage (if one can call it that) that I have is having looked death in the face and having had the time to do an internal tally of what my life was before that moment.

On April 4, 2006, I ended up in the local ER with cardiomyopathy. The left ventricle of my heart was ballooned out and my lungs were filling with fluid faster than I could cough it out. After the “sound and fury”, the rush of EMTs to get to me the hospital, and the concert of doctors and nurses, and the tests and nitro and more tests and consultations, I was left alone in my little curtained-off cubicle. But I wasn’t dead yet. I could still hear what was transpiring in the hall beyond, and I could see feet below the curtain.

I saw feet clad in what looked like shower caps. I saw those feet approach and stop outside my cubicle. Then I recognized my son’s unmistakable size 16 Nikes facing those shower-capped feet, and a pair of small battered flip flops that could only belong to my daughter-in-law. (Who else wears flip flops in April in Washington state?!?) And I heard the owner of the shower-capped feet say that my condition was tenuous at best.

Is it strange to say that, looking back, it was the best moment of my life? Not the happiest, of course, but the BEST. Because it defined who I was from that moment until now, and if I’m lucky until the end of my life?

Laying there in my ER cubicle, I had to do a quick review. I asked myself, had I made mistakes? Oh yes, indeed. Had I done wrong? Oh, you betcha. And that being the case, what kind of legacy was I about to leave behind? Easy answer!

I was going to leave behind love. No one I had ever loved would doubt my love for them. No one who knew me would doubt that I always did what I thought was best for them, even if it didn’t turn out exactly as I’d planned. I knew at that moment that I could go without any regret other than perhaps a few bucket list items that might entertain me but which would ultimately do nothing to enrich or diminish what defined “Debi” in the minds of those who loved me.

I survived, obviously, and I survived with an amazing gift. Because I know how deeply the love in my life has touched both myself and those around me. I’ve been richly blessed with extra time to build on that legacy, but I can totally look forward to death without a qualm.

Funny thing about love. You take it with you when you’re staring death in the face. I learned that in 2006 and I’ve lived it every day since. I’m the luckiest person I know.

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