There is a certain gift to realizing one’s mortality. Once the gravity of the thing sits in, there is the realization of what is left. Now possessed with a limited number of days, you go out into the world taking full account of what you have and had, of what still may be had and what may not. It is remarkable liberation.
In Thorton Wilder’s Our Town, Emily who has recently died in childbirth is permitted to live out one more day on earth. She chooses her twelfth birthday, but cannot bear what she sees observing the living do not appreciate every minute they have life. In the play’s most poignant moment she asks the stage manager, if it is possible for the living to understand the value of the brevity of life and he only says, “no” adding “perhaps the saints and poets, maybe.”
There is a peculiarity about “bad news.” I don’t know if those who have to face their life’s end get to the point of being a saint or even a poet, but my observation is it does make these more alive than ever. Once the hurt and anger are done, there is finally the realization of what we all outwardly acknowledge, but never grasp. Our days are numbered and every minute a gift.
I think Emily would appreciate those who return from their doctors with their stunned countenances and inhabiting what is now a surreal world. She would take no pleasure that they would soon join her number, but she would love that they know now what is important is who they are with and where they go, what they hold fast to and what they let go.
There is an ad for Colorado tourism that sums the situation up….”waiting is the opposite of living.” The dying understand this and this makes them more alive than most who have the vibrancy of health, who go through life without the realization that at any moment “life may be required of them,” content to speak of hopes and dreams followed by the word “someday.”
It is not enough to say someday I will go to Paris, stand by the ocean, marry, have a baby, climb a mountain, skydive or reconcile with my children or parents. We know that, but we don’t let it set in. This was Emily’s lament. The living always say, “someday.” And someday never comes.
It is no blessing to hear a number of months attached to your life, but the reality is always there anyway and not faced with it, most of us are content to ignore it and say “someday.”
Someday is such a sad word. Ironically the most alive people I knew and know do not have the luxury of its use. We would do well to follow their example.
Image: William Holden and Martha Scott in “Our Town.” Image in the Public Domain