I woke this morning to the news that Gordon Downie had passed away after a long, hard-fought battle against cancer. My heart stopped beating and my lungs froze. Time stood still as my cells adjusted to this horrible new reality. Shifting themselves into a new constellation … one that (out of necessity) would try to accommodate the brutal fact that Gordon Downie would not be providing me with new wisdom, music, words, inspiration … ever again.
Once my cells had completed the quick and dirty remapping exercise, my heart and lungs convulsed, paused, and began sending life through my body once more. Sending blood and oxygen to detour around the space in my body that is now permanently reserved for Gord … a dark space that is still raw but that will eventually have walls of scar tissue and denial … a space that will be visited periodically when I hear his voice or am reminded of his words.
I feel like my body is starting to fill with spaces that have been walled off and protected. Sanctuaries. Catacombs. Dark and sacred. Housing past experiences and people that I don’t want to let go but don’t want to regularly encounter … experiences and people that I honour because they made me who I am. Spaces that house past fears, shames, and doubts that I haven’t been willing to fully explore. Spaces that house past loves and lovers. Some of these spaces have been given more real estate in my body than they perhaps deserve. Others have consciously been buried so deep that they will never be unearthed. Their sweet or awful presence continuing to influence and shape the person I continue to be.
Who do I continue to be?
I continue to be one who refuses to learn lessons that are right in front of me. Today’s lesson comes from Gord himself. His life and his death. His not to be denied mantra. “With illusions of someday casting a golden light. No dress rehearsal. This is our life.” He’s right. And he lived right to his very last breath trying to show us all what he meant. Every single moment is a gift. We have this one life and it is not to be squandered.
And yet we do. Squander it. I squander it.
Because I haven’t felt any real sense of urgency.
I have been working lately within the field of change management … supporting my organization to bring new processes, new ways of thinking, new ways of being into reality. What I know is that without awareness (of what needs to change and why) and without desire (for the proposed future state), change will not happen. Without a sense of urgency, change will not happen.
As for me? I have a pretty good awareness of what I want. I want a life that has balance. A life in which I am busy and productive and creative and contributing without completely compromising my own health and overall well-being. A life that includes BEING as well as DOING. I have a sincere desire to live my life in a way that allows the people, places, and things I love to get the best of me rather than the left-overs.
So I have awareness and desire. What is still missing is that sense of urgency.
I was sure my sense of urgency would be solidified when one of my very best friends in the entire world was diagnosed with breast cancer and another was diagnosed with stomach cancer. They are both my age. Both a lot like me … always wanting to do more … always making sure that everyone else’s wants / needs are met before considering their own. They were both diagnosed in 2016 and began fighting for their lives. I vowed to learn from them and made a promise to myself as 2017 began that I would slow down. I was determined to create space in my life so that I could just breathe and enjoy each and every moment. I promised to take better care of myself. I vowed to rise above the chaos of those environments in which mean people make unrealistic demands that lead to outcomes that have no impact.
And yet. Here I am. On a 2-week doctor-mandated leave from work because I had let myself get so worn down that I literally couldn’t go on. At the beginning of October, I could barely eat. I had lost tonnes of weight. I was on my fifth round of antibiotics since March. My body was so depleted that as soon as I made my way home in the evening, I would collapse.
And yet I kept going. Until I really couldn’t. Until Jay stopped me. Until I casually said to him “I feel like the life is leaving my body … I feel like I am dying”. A weird sort of peace come over me when I said those words. The peace you feel when you land on the answer to a problem that you didn’t know you had been trying to solve. I didn’t mean to scare him. I didn’t mean to be profound. I was just doing what I often do … letting words fall out of my mouth without considering their impact on the person I’m with. (Let me tell you … there’s a deep narcissism and self-centredness that comes along with being as depleted as I was. More on that another time.) It wasn’t until I noticed him staring at me that I realized what I had said. We were driving somewhere and he had to pull over because he was so rattled. It took a few moments for me to realize what I had done. When I did, I tried to soften my words and back pedal but it was too late. When we got home, he insisted that I call my doctor and make an emergency appointment for the next day. He drove me to her office the next morning and waited while I met with her. He threatened to tell her what I had said to him if I didn’t talk to her about it myself. He said “you have to tell her those exact words or I will”. He wouldn’t leave her waiting room until I confirmed that I had told her. She was not surprised. She has been wanting me to take some time out for a long time and … more importantly … make a change that will allow me to live in a space of vitality.
So for real. What the fuck? Why is my personal sense of urgency to make necessary change so extreme? Why did I have to let it get so bad before I took a break. And let’s be clear. I’m taking a 2-week break. Because I had no choice. 2 weeks is nothing. Yes I feel better. I have more energy with each day that goes by. I feel more myself than I have in ages. I finally felt that necessary sense of urgency, but it basically took my own version of a near death experience to get me to that place.
But what am I going to do next Monday?!?
I’m genuinely terrified. Terrified that the ease I’ve felt in my body and soul over the past week will be obliterated within days (maybe hours or minutes) of returning to my normal routines. Terrified that this will become just one more of those dark spaces in my body. A dark space that gets walled off. Containing wisdom and experience that I actively ignore.
Am I going to finally learn? From Susan. From Laura. From Jay. From my family and friends who have been encouraging me to take better care of myself for a long time now. From my doctor. From Gord Downie? Or … am I going to immediately drift back to my old habits. Carrying on with this “illusion of someday casting a golden light”. Thinking I’m invincible. Thinking I can indefinitely withstand the physical, emotional, spiritual onslaught that I’ve faced over the past couple of years. Thinking that someday I will slow down. Someday I will walk away from the tyranny that has had me in a strangle hold. Someday I will do things for myself just because they make me feel good. Someday I will bring balance to my life. Someday.
What will it take for me to realize that this is not a dress rehearsal? This is my life. It is sacred and precious and not to be squandered.