*Thanks to my friend Kristy Hutchinson for sharing today’s post. May all of us be granted the ability to find gratitude wherever we are today.*
I wasn’t there when he died. He sat on the couch, they say, choking and sputtering. He asked my mother and my aunt to go to the store to get him some decongestant. He asked for his brother. Then he couldn’t ask for anything.
I’m sorry I didn’t hear.
His daughters weren’t there when he died. They didn’t see him struggle for his last breath, didn’t hear him choking on his phlegm. They couldn’t watch as the coroner closed his eyes and removed his body.
I wish I could have been there, to hold his hand and hear his straggling breath, to tell him I would be better, that I would learn from his mistakes, that I would succeed, that I would make him proud, fall in love, and die someday, too. I wish I could have closed his tired eyes and died for a moment with him.
I’m sorry I didn’t see.
How many times have you suddenly lost the ability to use one of your five senses? Whether it be out of convenience or out of sheer over abundance of sensitivity, we just don’t use our God-given tools to observe and experience life. Think of how much we could learn by watching, hearing, feeling life if we could just take the moment to do it.
I have been a smoker for the better part of sixteen years. The story I told above is true. My grandfather died of Emphysema in our living room, days after I had returned to Lyon to complete my Senior year. I lived with him for an entire semester. We were roommates, and he swallowed morphine every night to go to sleep, hacking and coughing the whole way.
Yet, I didn’t see him struggle to do everyday things. I did, but I wouldn’t absorb it, believe that I too one day wouldn’t be able to take a shower on my own, use the bathroom, or get dressed. I let the things I saw pass by without taking stock in them, without really seeing.
I work in an office in which I routinely ask for someone’s first name. Over half of the time I usually get “Joe Smith,” the person spitting out their first and last name before I can protest. Or I ask for an email address and get a street address, et cetera.
The above examples are trivial, but you get the point. So much of our lives we experience on auto-pilot. We go about our days ( or at least some of you may) in a bit of a self-absorbed fog, where we sit in a drive thru, not listening to the song playing on the radio, not listening to the operator taking your order and not listening to the person on the other end of the cell phone dangling from your ear.
Next time you think about it, just stop everything you can, just for a moment, and think about what our senses are meant to do. We as a species must evolve, adapt, learn and change to survive. If we can’t bring ourselves to learn from the mistakes of others, if we can’t stop and feel a little pain, we won’t learn, we won’t adapt, we will become stagnant and fail.
I wish I could have been present for his death, but even more, for his life. Now, if I try to recall his struggle, the memories are faint and fleeting. For nine days now, I have tried to remember, to realize that I, too, would one day hack and cough, be unable to breathe, need someone to tie my shoes if I were to continue to smoke. For nine days now, I have tried to use my senses to absorb as much of this bittersweet, enrapturing, miracle called life. And for this, I am grateful.