Taking Out the Garbage and Other Things We Get To Do

Because I so frequently hear people say that the holidays are stressful and that the holidays are often faced with dread, I’d like to re-post a blog I wrote several years ago.  I feel a deep stewardship of my experience of having died and been brought back to life; it feels important to keep reminding others that this is the only moment we can be certain that we will have.  Don’t dread your moments.  Don’t wish them away.  Don’t fill your thoughts and days with feelings and activities that don’t elevate your spirit.  That you will have the holidays ahead with the people you love and care about will be the greatest treasure you could hope for.

January 12, 2015:

“Five years ago, this morning I died.  Five ­­­­years ago, this afternoon my family was cautioned that after 40 minutes of CPR and defibrillation and open-heart massage and the hours of cardiac surgery and thirty transfusions that followed, it was possible I would not have brain function.  And yet here I am, the white light, the machines and tubes, the walker, the days of bewilderment, my fears about the loss of part of my sight, my puzzlement over the event itself, and my confusion about my impaired time sequencing skills largely behind me.

Several months after I was out of the hospital I woke up during the night and sat up wide awake from drifting nothingness, and the thought arrived: “You do realize that you do not get to stay, don’t you?”  I was not dreaming that I remember; I just woke up, sat up and the sentence arrived in my consciousness.  It was just a sentence in my thoughts from the misty vacuum of sleep.

“You do realize that you do not get to stay, don’t you?”

I remember getting out of bed and going to the kitchen and putting peanut butter on a bagel.  I remember turning off the lights and looking out of the window at the sky above the frosted woods behind our house.  I remember noticing the stars – which were fairly clear that night – and feeling so grateful to be able to look out of a window, if with only the sight of one eye and of being so grateful to be confused about time and to have the cognitive ability to realize that I was.

Last week someone told me he was happy that Christmas was over, adding, “I hate the holidays.  There are all of these things you have to do; all these people you have to see and places you have to go.  I couldn’t wait for them to be over.”

Hating, dreading, disliking, regretting, fearing, – feeling we have to do something – wishing the time to pass – are all choices that we make.

People have asked me three specific things about my cardiac arrest and subsequent experience, one of them being if I feel differently than I “did before.” I used to look forward to a lot of things being over.   I know that I used to think and say, “I have to” about the most ordinary of responsibilities and opportunities.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

There are so many everyday things you become grateful for being able to get to do when you realize – in every moment – that you do not get to stay.

A good question to ask ourselves any morning that we are so fortunate as to wake up, to get out of bed, to move our arms, to know where we are, to remember our names – is, “What ordinary things do I get to do today?”  A note on the bathroom mirror that says – I Get To – can be a helpful reminder of a small behavioral change that can help us find gratitude and peace and even joy in the things we sometimes feel we have to do every day.”

I wish everyone an incredible holiday and if you find yourself feeling in the weeks ahead that you  have to go somewhere, see someone, get someone a present – any have to’s – remind yourself that you get to love, get to show it, get to say it – even if only in your thoughts.  One more holiday.  One more opportunity.  One more breath.  What a wonder – all of these things that we will get to do.

2 Responses

  1. Sam Yamauchi says:

    “I get to…” – one of the mist useful, beautiful, powerful and poetic things I’ve learned from you, Fred. Thank you for this.
    I’m so grateful that I “get” to know you.

  2. Fred Swan says:

    …and I, you Sam. What an incredible opportunity – these years and realizing that I would have missed out on coming to know beings like you.