Living While Alive

Love of mine, someday you will die

But I’ll be close behind and I’ll follow you into the dark

No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white

Just our hands clasped so tight, waiting for the hint of a spark

If heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied

And illuminate the no’s on their vacancy signs

If there’s no one beside you, when your soul embarks

I will follow you into the dark

You and me have seen everything to see from Bangkok to Calgary

And the soles of your shoes are all worn down

The time for sleep is now

But it’s nothing to cry about

‘Cause we’ll hold each other soon in the blackest of rooms

Death Cab for Cutie, “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”

In the year 2005, my husband and I were 5 years into our marriage and pregnant with our first child. Death Cab For Cutie’s “Plans” was on constant repeat. Our favorite song off of that record was “I will follow you into the dark”. This was a song that somehow managed to be simultaneously macabre and romantic:

“If there’s no one beside you, when your soul departs, I will follow you into the dark.”

At the time, I imagined this song being played at my funeral. I was going to be old and grey, and if I went before Abe he would soon be following after. I did not picture that there would be a span of decades between the two events. This breaks my heart so much, that I honestly really can’t bear to listen to it any more.

Be that as it may, the song still gets many things right.

The song speaks about religion in the context of fear and punishment. It evokes a state of mind that is so prevalent- especially in American culture. We get points for suffering. For working harder. For being busier than everyone else. And love? It is earned, rather than being freely given. Some children never get any. Or they get conditional love. A love encased in fear. If there is a god, love is the god, not fear.

Yet we so willingly jail ourselves into lives that don’t make us happy. That we feel like we can’t escape. We devote an endless trial of hours beside toxic, abusive people that we would never choose to be around if our pay check didn’t depend upon it. A good work environment will encourage you to share your talents. A good work environment is one in which you feel you have autonomy and purpose- at least by the time you’ve got a couple of years to learn and train. A good work environment can even be (for some people) something that is rote and easy. Something that isn’t terribly stressful that we can leave behind so that we can then go home and follow our true purposes, passions, and talents.

When we aren’t at work we still aren’t satisfied. We are annoyed that we are stuck in traffic. Or by a comment someone made. Or that they got our order wrong at the drive-through. Doesn’t it seem like we are almost built to make ourselves miserable? Every hour that we worry about work, every hour that we worry about what someone thinks of us, and every hour we stew and work ourselves up about that comment is another hour of our lives that we submit ourselves to misery over happiness.

Now I am going to be blunt. When I received a terminal diagnosis. I stopped worrying about all of that crap. Because I learned what REAL problems actually look like. I am not trying to be condescending, I used to be there too. But there are very few problems like knowing the reality that everything you know and love will soon be taken away.

But you won’t get that. Because you haven’t been in my shoes. You can think about it conceptually, but you won’t get it. Until you’ve had that fear. Until you are out of options. Until you stare it in the face.

The biggest cure for minor worries and proper perspective is a terminal diagnosis.

Without a short expiration date, there is still another day to come to start again. To do things better. To solve the problem or find ways to not let it affect you as much. For the larger problems, like the horrible sensation of grief. There are still years to go through the process of healing. To find a way to live with the loss, cherish the fond memories and still have some happiness.

To quote author Julie Yip-Williams (who documented her own experience from diagnosis to death from colon cancer in the book “The Unwinding of the Miracle”) “Life is wasted on the living.”

You don’t have to imprison yourself. Roll down the windows, turn up the radio and sing during your daily commute. This is your life. Please live it. And leave the job behind when you leave for the day. When we live to work we lose far more than the brownie points we are hoping to gain. We lose time with our families, time spent on hobbies. We lose freedom and happiness.

Love openly. Love without fear. Those who reject you can be easily removed from your tribe.

You and me, have seen everything to see…

Experience life with your loved ones. Invest in experiences. Go on a date with your husband. Take the kids to an amusement park. Go on the freaking vacation. These build love. These build memories.

On various vacations with my husband, we swam at Trunk Bay. We went cave tubing in Belize. We zip-lined. We para-sailed. We saw incredible shows in Las Vegas. We had breakfast overlooking Pike Street market in Seattle. We screamed our heads off to our favorite bands at Lollapalooza in Chicago. We saw a Broadway play. We biked across the Golden Gate Bridge. We hot air-ballooned over Oregon’s Willamette Valley. We sat on an aft balcony of a cruise ship and watched Martinique disappear (we also did other things not mentionable in this blog).

On various vacations and daily getaways as a family, we screamed on roller coasters. We went down cruise ship water slides. We worked as a group of five to get ourselves out of an escape room. We picnicked in the park after a 10 minute walk through the woods from our house. We danced to Caribbean music on a catamaran. We splashed in swimming pools. We swam in the ocean and watched them play, scream and smile. We watched the sunset. We watched our oldest daughter learn how to drive a boat on a lake, and all of our kids laugh and scream while tubing off of the back of it (disclaimer: not at the same time our daughter was getting lessons.)

I have never had a vacation just with girlfriends… until last week. I took the leap and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. We saw the sights together, laughed together, and had meaningful conversations over wine and pizza. We need time with friends too. If you get a chance to do this, jump at it. You will never regret it.

And I don’t regret a single day or dollar that I invested in any of these experiences. Take the trip. Always take the trip.

But you won’t really do these things because you read this blog, will you? You may file it away somewhere in your brain alongside inspirational quotes that you think of every now and then. You won’t really change. Because death is now, and always will be an abstract concept to you. Until some day it isn’t.

2 thoughts on “Living While Alive

  1. I read this post yesterday and keep thinking about how I’ve imprisoned myself in a job and path that brings me no joy. I’ve resigned myself to existing instead of living for no other reason than gaining other people’s approval. I’ve already set my change in motion. You articulated exactly what my subconscious has been trying to tell me. Your blog has made a difference. “We are made of stardust. Intergalactic debris and far-flung atoms, shards of carbon nanomatter rounded up by gravity to circle the sun. As atoms pass through an eternal revolving door of possible form, energy and mass dance in fluid relationship.” -Burgess

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