Friday, June 24, 2011

About Being Alive

Some years ago, while I was still in my forties, I convinced myself that I had lung cancer and was on my way to see an M.D. to get my fears confirmed. I was a heavy smoker at the time and had good reason to believe that I had done myself in. Add to that that I had recently lost a very dear friend, and the person who had been the head of my department at the university, plus two others who had populated my landscape over the years. All smokers taken by cancer. There was also the idea that I would die at the age my mother did; she was forty-seven. Her mother was thirty-three. Cancer took both.

I had recently arrived in California and didn’t have a car yet. I waited at a bus stop observing two elderly women enjoying a conversation and thought about being robbed of the old age that could have been mine. Those old ladies were probably younger than I am now.

In the days prior to the clean bill of health that I finally got from the doctor, I became increasingly aware of those moments of life that I didn’t want to give up. It wasn’t the people in my world I was focused on; that would have been far too painful, and not the world around me that I would no longer inhabit. No, it was the momentary pleasures, like the fragrance of printing ink that is released when the newspaper is opened in the morning. Sitting in a movie theater with a bag of popcorn waiting for the show to begin is another of those repeated moments that has never lost its luster. Snuggling into the big soft chair in my room to steal a nap and the time when I slip into my warm bed as the house cools at night. How sad to think there would be no more.

This line of thinking came back last weekend when I strolled on a sunny Saturday at our local farmer’s market. I was with my daughter and a dear friend and was taking great pleasure in some of the best strawberries I had ever put in my mouth.

I think what is special about those bits of life is that being alive is enough. Pain does something quite different, sometimes causing us to wish our lives away. I wonder about those people whose worlds were taken from them recently by way of tsunamis, earthquakes, tornados, floods and other disasters of old testament dimensions. How fortunate those of us that continue to delight in that first cup of coffee in our kitchens in the morning.

I took an unplanned detour there. I meant to end this discourse with something about how the arts (music and the visual arts, movies, books and such) were part of the picture. Oh well, maybe next time.

Poet Emily Dickinson: “To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.”

The image above is Enactment ©2002, Painted Paper Collage on Canvas, 10” x 32”


  1. Lovely post, Joan. More and more I, too, am savoring those special moments of just being alive. Priceless.

  2. Thanks, Connie. I guess one learns about what one really needs as the years go by.