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Prompt: Life Cycle
This is a prompt from my "Beneath & Beyond" conversation cards, which I keep on-hand.
"Are you okay with the fact that someday you will die?"
Yep. There were two significant moments in recent history where I intensely wrestled with the notion of my own mortality.
The first I'd like to mention was in late 2014, when I left Nashville. To sum it up: when our plans to move to Portland, Oregon, fell through (thanks, Fukishima), we moved to our alternate - Nashville, Tennessee - in 2012 instead to create our "next chapter." Things steadily disintegrated unfortunately, and by the late summer of 2012 she and I split up, I left my day job, and our lease was ending. It seemed a good idea to throw in the towel and return back to our old city.
On the way back to the East coast, I took a detour up north to visit friends and relatives, then eventually work on some land owned by a couple friends of mine up in Vermont. That was an intolerable experience, and was the start of the descent to a nadir I'd not like to experience again. At that point in my life, there was literally nothing beyond my family connections that convinced me that life was worth living. I had a rough time.
Maybe I wrote about some of that experience in a previous entry. But the two months or whatever I spent up there were terrible. But when I finally returned to the city where I now work, I had resolved that after my mother passes away I would give myself 90 days to find a worthwhile cause or I would find some way to end my own life.
My mother is still alive, and I've not had to revisit that personal promise yet. In fact, I think I made it out of that cycle of depression and personal crisis by throwing myself back into my day job (the place I had worked at years before was gracious enough to hire me back), and by investing heavily in my health via bicycling. Of course, the disruption in cycling - the reason I felt like un-apologetically living again - had caused my next brush with mortality.
By the time I turned 40 years old, I had become a five-day-a-week bicycle commuter. I lived in the city where I worked and regularly traveled more trips - if not more miles - with my bike than my car. I didn't like the city, but I lived there because I could and did cycle every day.
One evening in late November of 2017, I was hit by a car while riding my bicycle to the office (because I had left my keys at my desk...!). The Spring after I was hit, I had surgery on my shoulder for something called a SLAP lesion: as a result of catching myself after falling from my bike, a bicep became near-completely detached from the arm bones. Physical therapy was excruciatingly painful at times and seemed to go on for ages. The settlement check was weak sauce, and took over two years to arrive. The resulting ordeal of legal issues, insurance claims, health appointments, surgery, and still-lingering chronic pain (still here as I type this) made me hate living again.
I feel like I lost my identity at that point in my life. I said to myself, "Well I'm never going to ride my bike in this fuckin' city again, so I may as well move outta here as well." About 10 months after the accident, I ended a relationship with a woman I'd been seeing for close to 2 years. I began gaining weight. The only time I would ride my bicycle was when I was on vacation.
Again, I'm fortunate to say that I think the worst of that ordeal is over. I received a settlement that paid me back for the considerable medical bills I'd had to pay for out of pocket. I'm now living in a decent place in the 'burbs. I still ride my bike only when I'm out of town and/or on a protected cycle area. The chronic pains persist but I feel like I've made my peace with them and know how to flex my limits.
Both of those times in my life, I pointedly reflected on my own death. They were also the first times in my life when I began seriously weighing the preservation of my continued existence versus deliberately ending it. Prior to then I would think of my own death, and as time has gone on my notion of my own death has gained clarity and realism. Simply through the persistence of time I have come to fear it less and less.
Of course, being hit by the car while cycling is a way to have death thrust upon someone much more quickly. It could end suddenly, with a snapped neck or bleeding out. Assault is a possibility of course, and if death is involved in that encounter it's possibly a quick one. Nothing is ever certain however, and speculation is just that.
My father died when I was 19, and I'm approaching the age he was when he died. I watched his living decay, or decay-while-living, and I wonder what I will look like if I am given the circumstance of a protracted dying. I do think the slow deflation of life from a body is likely worse than a relatively quick death, and if given the choice I'd prefer it end quickly. I remember seeing my father and I think deflation is what literally occurred within him. Maybe it was in witnessing that where I began considering how different peoples' deaths would affect me, were I to live after their passing.
I also wonder if avoiding city cycling - for example - is best for my life. If I consider the two possibilities (of a slow versus a fast death), it's far more likely to die in my preferred way if I cycled more often. The chances of me "dying by way of deflation" increase the more carefully I live my life. And by far, I miss long-distance cycling more than pretty much anything else I've experienced in my life.
...I think my reason to go bicycling needs to extend beyond a "quickness of death," however. That being said, there's no denying that when I was training for and carrying out my long-distance bicycle rides, I was living my best life.
I'm to the point where I think it's clear I side-stepped the original question, and/or I already answered it. In either case, I'm just rambling now so I'll wrap it up.
To sum it up: obviously death will happen. Hopefully it happens quickly, and I would prefer to choose when and how. As an individual human, I will be forgotten and rendered inconsequential, and to reduce the amount of pain my death may cause I hope my mother dies before I do.