For now, to life

I’ve been apprehensive about writing this post because I’m not sure it is my place. I also try to avoid intensely personal posts. But this is something I’ve been unable to stop thinking about for almost a month.

About a week before Christmas, my uncle inexplicably died. He was rushed to the hospital and put on machines for a weekend. My parents hurried to Charleston to be with my aunt in the middle of the night.

It was a truly tragic event. There was no warning signs, no preparation. He was young and relatively healthy. We were all blindsided. And it is still something I cannot fully wrap my mind around. When my parents were explaining the doctor’s bleak outlooks to me that weekend, I kept asking, “I don’t understand. What happened?” I must have asked that several times. I needed to understand why. What caused it? Everything has a cause!

When my grandfather died last year, it was something we knew was coming. He’d been sick for a while. The hospital helped prepare hospice care. He was surrounded by his family in his last moments. My grandmother was holding his hand.

We all said our good-byes. Mine was on a busy street corner in Washington while walking home from the Metro after class one night. I knew, even if I wouldn’t admit it to myself so that I wouldn’t cry in front of McDonalds, that it was the last time I’d hear his voice and my last chance to say I love you.

My amazing aunt Laura.

My aunt and her family didn’t get that. He was just gone.

We have these preconcieved ideas about lives, especially our lives. As a young person, I don’t think about death very often. I’ve been fortunate to not have to experience a lot of death. And maybe that’s part of why I can’t comprehend what happened.

For most of my life I’ve been living for some future event.When we are kids we live for “when I grow up.” And then in college, our days are devoted to “after graduation.” What comes after graduation is more of the same. Every new year we plan out the one in front of us — “this year I’d like to.” I have plans out until 2014 when my husband turns 30.

What this tragic event made me really see is the fragility of life. Doctors, scientists, brilliant minds have discovered what makes our hearts keep beating and our brains develop thoughts, emotions. They know how humanity developed, walked upright and all that Darwin stuff.

Despite all of that there are still the unexplained moments. We have no clear understanding of the whys. Why are we here? Why does life exist? Why did this happen? Why can something be inexplicable in a world with so many other answers?

I’m not asking for spiritual answers. Those, I think, we have to find on our own. I don’t even think there are answers in this case. This happened. That’s all I’ve got. I’m sure there’s a reason. Perhaps you’d say God was involved somehow.

But beyond all our knowledge, all our collective instincts about living long lives, there’s a deep cavern of unknown. We can’t predict and we can’t really plan.

My aunt and uncle at our wedding in 2010.

We can work hard. That’s what we do as kids. We can get up every morning, brush our teeth and go to work. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. That’s what we do as adults.

Somewhere in all of that, though, we have to actually live. For now. Not for tomorrow, the day after that, next year, 2014.

My uncle was really great at that. He, like my aunt, was vivacious. He talked excitedly about even the most mundane things — hot peppers, for example. He was always happy and it was infectious.

When my first niece was born, I started contemplating what it would mean to be an aunt. I kept coming back to my amazing aunt, who passed along her make-up, jewelry and love of fun. That’s what I wanted to be for my niece, just like my aunt.

I think now I want to copy them both in their love of life. I want to talk excitedly about really mundane things — probably not hot peppers, though. I’d like to wake up with renewed appreciation for all that I have, not just tangibly, but for the unknown, too.

I’ll keep planning, because that’s our way of managing the unpredictable future. But I want to stop and make sure I’m living for the here and now. I’d like to speak everyday like I do French — as if I’ve forgotten the future tense.

So let’s live in the present tense. For now, for tomorrow, for life.

6 Responses to “For now, to life”
  1. Lindseyriddick says:

    Thank you for the beautiful words, Liz- they are definitely ones to live by. love you and our family so much.

  2. So sorry to hear about your uncle. Nobody should have to go through that.

    I think about this a lot too. For the new year, I actually put a post-it on the mirror in my bathroom that says “Worry will not strip tomorrow of its burdens, it will strip today of its joy.” This way, I remember to live in the present every day when I wake up =)

    • Liz says:

      Thank you,Sam. I like the quote. I’ve been trying to be more here and now. That’s a bit of a challenge though since we are kind of conditioned to plan ahead.

      The Golden Compass series ends with a beautiful message that I think applies a little here. The heroes in the end are told to create Heaven on Earth. In other words, don’t live your life planning for the afterlife. Make this life your Heaven. I think that’s kind of beautiful no matter your faith.

  3. Clare says:

    Thank you for sharing this. The unexplained of death, especially when unexpected, is one of the hardest things to grasp. I think it’s important to remember to be present every day, but it can also be hard. I hope that in 2012 you’re able to live in the present as much as possible.

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