I’m participating in the Trust 30 Challenge in honor of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 208th birthday-you can learn more here.
Here’s today’s prompt and my response:
We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. Our age yields no great and perfect persons. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
You just discovered you have fifteen minutes to live.
1. Set a timer for fifteen minutes.
2. Write the story that has to be written.
I just learned that I have fifteen minutes to live-fifteen minutes! What’s my story? First I tell Anne how much I love her and how my life has been enriched just by being around her, and how lucky I am that she has chosen to spend the last almost 28 years with me-that I am a totally different person because of her, more creative, looser and more "myself” than I ever would have been without her.
Then I call my father and thank him for all the gifts he has given me; my persistence (some might call it stubbornness), my ability to take whatever life hands me, get knocked down, and get up and start all over again (I need to remember this tomorrow when I go back to work and get knocked down again), and my brains-I’m sure that my “smarts” comes from him. He’s the one who taught me to do what I think is right, whatever the consequences.
Then I speak to my 14 years dead mom, and tell her how I didn’t appreciate her enough when she was alive, how I have much more empathy for her life and her situation, and that the older I get the more like her I believe I am becoming, in a good way (although I wish that I could hand off the worry, the fretting, and the fear of being disappointed).
I speak to my two years dead aunt, and tell her how much she meant to me, how much like a second mother she was and how much of a role model she was to me.
Then I grab Anne, we go to King Kone, have the biggest messiest ice cream sundae, fudge, nuts and cherries, even if they have red dye #2, and I ask her to make sure to tell all my friends how much I love them, how much each of them has meant to me, and I want all of the students I’ve taught over the last almost 30 years to know how each of them as touched me as I hope I’ve touched them.
I have 10 minutes left to enjoy the ice cream, to study Anne’s face, to remember this moment forever (of course my forever is about to come to an end) and I try to think about what Anne needs to know before I leave her-practical things like the passwords to all my accounts, how to get in touch with my university, stuff that she will need to know in the next months. I tell her I want my funeral to be a party, to spend whatever it takes to make sure that everyone enjoys themselves, that everyone laughs, play a lot of The Boss, I tell her, and Roseanne Cash and Holly Near and Joan Baez.
I think about those who won’t necessarily be unhappy to know that I’m dead and I wish them well-I pray the Buddhist prayer, may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be peaceful, may I live with ease, may they be happy, may they be healthy, may they be peaceful, may they live with ease.
And I reflect, finally, on my full life-full of love, and friends, and accomplishments beyond what I ever thought I could accomplish, experiences, trips, people, knowledge, meals, prayers, church services, rainy days, sunny days, days in India, China and Nicaragua, days in Brooklyn and Manhattan, days of sorrow and drunkenness and days of clarity and pure joy. All the days that make up my life, and I am grateful for every single one of them, even the lowest days, because without those days I wouldn’t have lived, and now I have lived, for 63 years, four months, and six days, a full and satisfying life. I have served and been served, loved and been loved, forgiven and been forgiven.
And while I would wish for 63 more years of this wonderful life, I always knew it would come to an end, and now it has, and I wouldn’t change one minute of this life, even the ones that at the time I wanted to change-I know that they were important and made me who I am, who I became, and they are all part of the wonder that is my life.
How lucky I am, how lucky I’ve been, and how lucky I continue to be, in knowing that I have these last fifteen minutes to tell the story that needs to be told, a life of love, joy, gratitude and wonder.
What more is there to say? And now my fifteen minutes are up, my bell chimes, and my story comes to an end. Thank you God.