Yesterday, Christmas day, a friend of ours called us to tell her she was dying of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and likely wouldn't see the new year. We haven't heard from her in awhile for various reasons, the biggest of which is that she has been shutting people out over the course of the last year so she could, as she put it, "die alone."
Now, there are of course all kinds of parts to the story, but because she's mostly Stephanie's friend, it's really her story to tell. At the moment, I'm thinking more about the big picture. Perhaps that's selfish, but I think we all deal with this sort of thing in our own way.
This girl, who is only 31, is not the first young person we know to die at a young age. One of Steph's college roommates died at the age of 23 from anorexia. It was similar in that we really didn't know anything about it until it was too late.
When someone dies at your age, and you're still decades away from retirement, it seems to force you to put things into perspective. My Christmas, which has become more of a retail nightmare than anything else, has become one of thankfulness just to be alive. You just don't know what things will be like in a year or so.
The certainty of mortality itself hasn't been an issue for me in years. I know it's coming eventually, and I hope that it's still way off. The thing that I think most about is making the most of the time I've got left. What is really important about that time?
I think that love, and being in love with people who love you back, is probably the single most enriching experience of one's life. For me, the biggest part of that is my marriage. There are few relationships you can have where you have so much effect and influence on the other person. When you wake up in the morning and see that person lying in bed next to you, you know you've got the biggest reason to get up that morning right in front of you.
Success in life is important, I think, but it's so hard to define what success is. I see people who work themselves to death and get rich doing it, but is that a source of enjoyment for them? I doubt it. Is success doing something you like for a living? It is making enough money to buy nice things?
I think that my definition of success is to do something I like for a living, preferably for myself and not someone else, work as little as possible, have fun as much as possible, and make enough that the fun part is indeed affordable.
That leads to the issue of making the most of your time. If you spend a lot of time pursuing the fun things, are you really wasting time? If you spend all of your time working, that seems to me to be just as bad. So one thing that is clear then is that balance is one of the strongest skills you can have to really be successful. When we reach our last years, the question I think we need to ask ourselves is not what we could have done, but did we do what we should have done.
It's really deep stuff to think about. Suddenly those stupid philosophy people in college don't seem so useless. The "meaning of life" stuff can make your head spin, that's for sure. Heck, I make it worse by first asking if we even need that meaning to go about our lives.
I think that the conclusion I arrive at is that, while a friend has made choices to spend her final days alone, I'll make it my business to enjoy whatever time I have left. I'll do it with the people I love, doing the things that I love and doing what it takes to live a balanced and full life, to the best of my ability. Really, what other choice is there? I've got something left to give, how about you?