Hi all, I am now officially a certified yoga instructor–200 level RYT. Cool! Another life goal achieved.
On that note of life and bucket lists and such, I am copying and pasting in the essay I just wrote for our graduation ceremony on the theme “if I had 24 hours to live.” Here it is:
While I am writing an essay about my last day on earth, the final homework requirement for my yoga teaching certification, my sixteen-year old son wanders through the hearth room where I like to write.
“Hey Ethan,” I say. “Do you want to hear my essay about my last twenty-four hours to live?”
“Okay,” he agrees, perhaps a bit reluctantly. I know he was ready to escape back up to the attic room where he spends all of his time. Still, he stretches leisurely out on the colorful wool rug in front of me.
I begin reading my essay, which focuses mostly on how I would be at peace with dying if it weren’t for my kids. Ethan yawns, as I try to explain exactly why my husband and I haven’t gotten around to the preparation of our will even though we are both attorneys. I discuss how I try to close my fist tightly around the life force.
Ethan interrupts me as I begin the second page of my essay saying, “That’s completely boring. That’s not what the essay is supposed to be about.”
“Well . . .” I say, a little thrown off my game, “I am getting ready to tell you about my last day and I am setting up why it focuses on you kids.”
“Well, I think this essay is supposed to do something for people . . . like either make them laugh or cry or something,” he says.
“Yeah,” I say, “Well, I am trying to be honest. Like what would I really do if I had 24 hours left to live and I don’t think I’d really want to do anything other than be with my immediate family.”
“Yeah, but why would they have you write an essay about such a boring day?” he asks.
“It will pick up soon,” I say.
“Oh really,” he says a bit disbelieving. “I think they want to hear about what interesting things you’d do because you’d know you are going to die. So you can, you know, finally really take a risk.”
“Well, then what would you do on your last day?” I ask him.
Ethan thinks for a minute and then turns to me and says, “I’d take PCP.”
I am not sure whether to be relieved because this means he wouldn’t likely contemplate such a drug unless he were dying or be worried because he’d contemplate taking such a drug at all. I try hard to remain devoid of expression, lest he decide he can no longer tell me things like this. I mean, I grew up at then end of the cold war in a North Dakota town with a military base that sheltered nuclear weapons. It was common knowledge that the former Soviet Union had warheads pointed directly at my town. In the event of nuclear war, we’d quickly be nothing more than burnt nuclear fallout. Back then, I always thought that if I knew a warhead was heading towards North Dakota, I’d find someone to have sex with. I didn’t want to die a virgin. I guess that is how teenagers think. I turn to Ethan and say, “It might be kind of hard to find PCP.”
“Yeah, well. I don’t think you need to get into the practical details for the point of this essay,” he says.
“So, in other words,” I say, “I guess I should say I’d go hike in a place like Yosemite, where I’ve always wanted to hike but don’t because of my irrational fear of snakes.”
“Yeah. Exactly. You are dying so you face down your fears,” he says.
“I see your point, but can I finish reading you the essay I’ve written,” I ask.
“Sure, I guess,” he says, but picks up his little brother Josh, who up until this point has been playing quietly with his dollhouse, and begins to fly Josh around on his bent knees. I see that Ethan is already mentally checking out and I don’t have much time left so I dive into the last paragraph of my essay.
“Last week, I read Steve Job’s eulogy, written by his sister and published recently in the New York Times. Apparently, Steve’s last words, uttered while gazing into the distance above his family, were, ‘Oh Wow. Oh Wow. Oh Wow.’ Some lovely last words, I have to say. With such simple words, he let his family know that he would be okay wherever he was going. With these words he freed his family to return to and perhaps even live more fully in whatever remained of their own lives. If I could be surrounded by my three children and husband on my last day, and maybe sip some green jasmine tea, and listen to some of my favorite music, I’d be happy. In fact, I already get to spend a few days like this, here and there. It is kind of nice to know that, while I still have breath to follow, I already enjoy an occasional day worthy of a final one. Maybe one of these very days will be my last. We all have to vacate this body of ours and sometimes, it is without advanced notice. ‘Everyone. Everything. Everywhere. Ends.’ (from the HBO show Six-Feet Under). I want to welcome my own end with open palms and heart, willingly melting into that which always is, singing or uttering my own version of ‘Oh Wow. Oh Wow. Oh Wow’.”
Ethan looks up from his attention on Josh as I finish reading the paragraph. “That is where your essay should begin,” he says conclusively. He then stands up, passing Josh off to me so that he can ascend back up to his solitary attic haunt. I smile at Josh and hug him tightly. They shine like lights, these children of mine. I must not fear leaving them behind without me here. I must instead trust them to go on shining, each in their own way. In her poem October, Mary Oliver asks:
What does the world
mean to you if you can’t trust it
to go on shining when you’re
And so I end this essay, not with a reckless romp in North Dakota hay or a wild hike amongst slippery snakes—those scores should have already long been settled. Instead, as I die, I want to smile and nod in agreement with the last stanza of Oliver’s poem when she says:
so this is the world
I’m not in it.
It is beautiful.