Any time could be the last time. The last hello-goodbye. The last drink. The last caress. The last giggle, macaroni and cheese dinner, yelling match, email, orgasm, inspiration, idea, breath. Anytime could be your time. To leave. To arrive. To become. To cease becoming. Whatever way you think of it, whatever you believe.
Any instant could be your last.
We’ve been talking about this often, since our lives brushed against the raw edges of this truth, and its tremendous, unavoidable evidence has given rise to both panic attacks and wonder.
“How can I have spent five months running through it, and not known I was that close?” He asks, wondering about the doctor’s matter of fact sentence:
“You had a week or two at most.”
We are all that close.
The world is cruel and beautiful; the gods are splendid and irreverent; the odds and science are what they are; and the truth, a secret dervish twirling just beyond.
“It’s in my control now, to do more,” he says, committing with renewed vigor to diet and exercise and all the other proactive things that indicate clear arteries and a long life. And there it is, the sly and foolish word control, which has come to mean some kind of power over outcomes. Assurance, even, that the outcome we intend is ours.
But watching the gulls on the lake, I am privy to a different truth.
They have gathered at the edges of the rocks. Some have hunkered down, their white feathered breasts against the rocks. Some stand on a single yellow leg, the other tucked beneath feathers for warmth. Others tilt and pitch gently in the steel blue waves.
When I arrive they turn their lidless eyes in my direction, watching for the unknown of what my intrusion might mean. When I move slowly, they turn back. They have no illusions of control. No ornate or predetermined accounting for the way their life unfolds. What they know innately is attuned attention and response. The waves come and they rise. The wind tosses their hollow bones aloft, and they soar in flight.
We too, have only this, as puny as it seems. As much as our desires and egos and legends paint a different, grander backdrop for the stage upon which our life unfolds. Of course we think we do. It is our myth, spiraling back to the epics at the beginnings of time, and to the sagas of god and man grappling over the outcome of fate on Mount Olympus. It is our human striving to tell a bolder narrative, with us at the helm. We wage wars, with ourselves with each other over control. Over achieving some unswerving, undeniable guarantee that we are the makers of our destiny. That control is ours.
We think, “If I just…”
Just whatever it is we bargain for in our heads. Whatever illusive thing we believe that if we do we’ll have control: exercise every day, lose weight, say I love you, get the job, live closer to town, live away from it all, be discovered, become rich, eat a paleo diet, get elected for office, eat local, buy organic, pass that law, get eight hours of sleep. Whatever.
But even if you did each thing, even if you did everything, your life is still a gift; slight and rare in a tremendous universe. In an instant, it could slip. A blockage, a tumor, a fluke accident, a brutality. There are a thousand ways your life could end this instant, in spite of our best efforts. You are not in control.
So what can you do then, with this truth?
You can show up with intention for this life. You can attune your attention. You can choose your response. Still, no outcome is assured. The raft of your life is buoyed up by some grater force.
For the gulls, every intruder, possible threat, devastation, predator, or darkening night is simply an offering of life. Just as the sparkling tides, the pale crabs, the twirling yellow leaves that scud across the skies, are also only life. What is theirs, are wings, and wind and days.
What is yours is the way you meet the turbulence as it arrives: with grace or terror, with gratitude or anger, with openness or clenched fists, with focus or distraction. Your life will find you, no matter what you plan. Be here then. Be of this wild, brilliant new day. Respond as truly as you can, and know this life is made both of your breath, and of the wind you breathe.
Of an instant the gulls take to the air in unison, and their harsh calls are carried upwards with the sudden wind.