Friday, October 27, 2006

Today I Die

Two caesareans, one appendectomy, one auto accident, one hard fall-down during my seventh month of pregnancy, and one brain hemorrhage later, I am here to tell you that all those cliches, all the poems, all the plays and great books about the fleeting nature of life -- life, the expanse between being born and being dead -- are true. There is nothing trite about the sentiment. I now know because by some amazing grace I recently had a brain hemorrhage and not only did I live, but I live with VERY few complicating factors as a result.

For example, I am still as wickedly smart as I was before. And funny. I'm funnier than ever now. My husband might say I'm funny in a "touched" sort of way; and he would argue that it didn't start as a result of the hemorrhage. I can see his point; for example, this morning I aerobicized around the living room for 20 minutes in my pajamas because dammit it's time for me to start losing 25 pounds. He drank his coffee on the couch and watched me while I danced and jumped jacks and lifted legs to the Breeders (without irony), the Pretenders (which kept skipping) and some Romanian gypsy music.

Recently, I watched Robert Altman's new movie, "Prairie Home Companion." Awesome movie. The backstage banter at the beginning is perfect; anyone who has spent time getting ready backstage before a show will feel the real as captured by Streep, Tomlin, Harrleson, Reilly, etc. The movie is an allegory about the nature of life -- its sweetness, the brilliance all around us that we don't see until it's too late, the cruelty of it, the darkness. At the end of the movie, Kevin Kline, playing Guy Noir, quotes a famous Robert Herrick poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time." Here's the first stanza:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

When I taught British Literature, inevitably this poem would come up in the syllabus. I never really cared for it before, but now it plays in my head, like a happy ghost, probably 20 times a day.

My step brother recently told me about some sect of monks who wake up every morning and say to themselves, "today I die," intimating that they must live that day as if it were their last on earth. After my brain hemorrhage, I realized that each day previous to the one I found myself in might very well have been my last; the veil between life and death is thinner than I ever imagined. I mean, one morning I laid down to take a nap, and I woke up 20 minutes later with the worst headache of my life. By that same time the next morning, I had had three MRIs, two CT scans, one angiogram, and a large amount of morphine and other types of pharmaceuticals, and the only certainty the neurologists could tell me was that I was very, very, very lucky. They had no idea why it happened and told me that I was "a medical mystery."

Now I'm living as if each day is my last, because it could be. It could be yours. Really. And if it is: what do you want to do?

Here's my list:
1) Hang out with my kids
2) Have sex with my husband
4) Tell my family and friends that I love them
3) Write

Everything else is negotiable, but those four things are not.


Ann_Bogle said...

Christa, thanks for sharing your medical woe here on your blog. I am so sorry to read about your brain trouble. A few years ago I had an acute attack in the brain. Later I was treated with an SSRI and it helped. To describe the attack itself is nearly impossible. I needed immediate medical care, too, but due to my category, I was afraid to get help quickly. Things are better now, thank God.

I spoke to Ruby McCord today, and she has recovered from another broken hip. She can walk in her room with her walker but needs a wheelchair to go to the dining room. She is a sophisticated, smart, and wonderful person at 94. I sent her a box of books so she would have reading material. I so wish someone could take her out to the opera -- remember she watched all of Parsifal. Or to the museum.

You have very beautiful children. I am happy for you each day. I don't even remember being angry at you, but I know I was for a while and am no longer.

I am proud of you, too, for raising them at home, for deciding to be a mom first. Life in the suburbs has been downright hazardous in that regard. The people here are against their own young families and wind up in court, and it sickens me all day. You and David, on the other hand, are doing it just right: I can tell.

Big love, Ann

chuck said...

i like to take p.j. harvey to the gym with me. yay, life!