I was saddened to see a headline yesterday about five cyclists who were killed in Kalamazoo MI in a senseless random tragedy. I’m not going to rehash the details because that’s not the point. The point is that those folks were out enjoying life in the way that they did every day among friends with no idea that it would be their last ride.
I know Kalamazoo. I lived about 45 minutes away in St. Joseph. I rode the bike trail there. I flew into that airport a number of times – one time when the weather was so bad I wasn’t so sure it wouldn’t be my last ride. It’s been a long time since I’ve been there, but I would call it a small town. And in 4 months, there have been two random fatal events with multiple casualties. I can’t even imagine what that town and those families must be going through right now, but I offer them a deep breath of compassion.
I believe in life after death. I believe it is wonderful, and I believe that souls that have passed help us here on earth. I believe it is a beautiful life in either place, but I also believe that life on earth has the advantage of being at once the hardest journey and the most fulfilling. It is here that we can taste the lusciousness of a fresh-picked peach. With a body that feels emotions that literally run roughshod through our experiences, we are unmistakably alive. The warm kiss of sunshine on my arms on an early spring day or the sense of relief of that first cool breeze in the fall could not be felt without a body. But a body also brings the pain of disease and injury. It’s a mixed bag all around.
We are the only beings that know that we will die. I have a friend right now whose days are numbered because of cancer. I think of her, and I wonder if it would be harder to know or not know when my time is near. There are pros and cons of both, and essentially it doesn’t matter what I think. I have no idea how my drama will play out. But I know with certainty that it will play out. And, as far as I know, it could be today. My dog has no idea she will die. I would think it would be freeing to be oblivious to that fact.
With the knowledge that death is possible any day, we feel fear. In our inevitable quest to avoid death as long as possible, we limit our choices. Sometimes this is a smart thing, but sometimes it’s really a silly waste of energy. Due to our individual programming and experience, we each have fears of different things. For me, I’m hypervigilant about health matters. I have friends who won’t go hiking because they are extremely worried about snakes. Others don’t go outside without a gun because they are afraid of crime. I’m grateful that we each have our own stuff, or none of us would ever walk out the door. And staying home has its own risks, too!
The fact is we are never safe from the grim reaper. When it is our time, it is our time… it is our time. I believe that we have a predetermined “time” when our role is over here. I think other people have free will and can take my life out of sync with my plan, and I believe that I can alter the plan by taking my own life. Other than that, I believe we each are marching toward a known expiration date – known by God but totally oblivious to me. And when I see accidents like the one in Michigan and the shooting before it, it scares me. As much as I trust it’s beautiful on the other side, I’m just not ready to hang up my hat here.
This blog is about midlife moments. If you are not here yet, you just wait. The biological clock on having a baby is not nearly as loud as that biological clock on death. And at midlife, I’ve started to see my parents age as I watch the lines begin to deepen on my own face. The future is playing out before me, and it truthfully makes me squirm. The sense of urgency I feel to do what I want to do here is intense. While it is one of the best times of life because I am so damned aware of making each day count, it is one of the hardest times for the same exact reason.
My friend Lori took me out to lunch the week that I was told my former position was being eliminated. We had a lovely three-hour lunch catching up on all the years since childhood. She mentioned that she bought herself a silver carp necklace to remind her to live her life. The silver carp, she explained, is an invasive species that ended up here from Japan. It leaps out of the water incessantly, and it is a big fish. They hit whatever is in their way. People have been killed when struck by leaping silver carp. She wears the necklace to remind her that the only way to deal with randomness of life – and death – is to just keep on living. We have very little control over the timing.
My favorite yoga nidra practice ends with a breathing practice. “When you breathe in,” she says, “say thank you.” It is our breath that begins our life. It is the absence of breath that ends it. Except for those two unbelievably important breaths, we breathe on autopilot. The breath is the indicator that we are undeniably alive on this planet.
I’m sending a heart full of compassion to the families of those cyclists who are today realizing an unimaginable loss. And I hope that the silver carp will remind you to live TODAY as if it was your last. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it could be! And don’t forget to say “thank you” for every breath that you take. We are either living a grand adventure …. or nothing at all.