Thursday, December 04, 2008

Mortal Coils

2008 has come to feel to me like the Year of Mortality.

People have, if you want to get technical, been dying all my life. People close to me and people close to the people I love. Last year that somehow jumped to the forefront: I experienced my first Death in the Family as an adult (I lost two grandparents when I was in middle school and my beloved great-aunt while I was in college), friends of several of my close friends died while others experienced devastating illness in their families, romantic relationships among my friends and family collapsed, an elementary and high school classmate died suddenly, and I watched and felt the full impact of Six Feet Under.

And this year it's happened again. This year two beloved friends have lost parent or parents. My grandmother's fear of her own death has become all-consuming enough to exacerbate her illnesses; my friend's grandmother, who had been in a similar situation for a long time, succumbed. My student's brother was shot in the head; another student was shot in a drive-by. I have been diagnosed with a chronic illness—not at all life-threatening, certainly not until I'm substantially older, but somewhat life-compromising. A friend's friend, my own age, has been diagnosed with two kinds of cancer. Another high school classmate died earlier in the year; a teacher from my high school (never my teacher, but well-known) died yesterday morning. Today a father I know has had a piece of his liver cut off in one hospital to be placed inside his six-month-old son in another hospital, while their family members wait.

This is the year I am compelled to understand that this is not, in fact, unusual. This is the year I am realizing how and why Six Feet Under is right: that it's always going to be like this. This is always a world where people come (a high school classmate just had a baby; my cousin A is pregnant, and the birth in February will mark the beginning of a new generation in our family) and go, and because of that the questions we ask and devote ourselves to answering cannot be about that alone.

None of which makes any individual story any easier to endure. This is the year I feel wrapped in mortality, feel the loop of each of the stories I mentioned above. This is the year of mortal coils. Each one matters, each one puts pressure in a different place; this is the year I know they're all part of the same snake.

This is surely the year of mixed metaphors.

I am thinking today of the amazing courage it takes to survive the things that could happen to anyone, but don't. Which is a strange realization, that for the most part it takes astounding courage just to live life, live life in the form that this year has made me realize it comes in. I applaud everyone I love for living their lives at this constant risk, with this constant knowledge, especially those who have been pressed up more closely against this reality than I have.

I am also thinking: Okay, Universe, I get the message. I think everyone I love has gotten the message. So we're ready for you to relent a little. I think a successful transplant would be just the ticket. Just as a gesture of good faith.

It's good information for me, I can't deny it. I need to know about mortality; I need to know that I live in a world where it is a constant, and as such all I can do is choose when and how to use it as part of my definitions. When I have the luxury of choice, that is. But like all information that comes to me, and most stubborn smart people, I want to use it only on my own terms. This may, too, be the year I learn where that is not an option.

Or perhaps that last will be for next year. I'll have to see.


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