The past few days have been interesting, in the way that might make a person both sad and angry, and hopefully also touch into a compassionate spot. After a lot of attention had been given to the hurricanes that battered our nation last month, highlighting both the devastation of nature and human resilience, it seemed that we were due a period of celebration. Instead, music icon, Tom Petty, died (prematurely reported, retracted, and ultimately, with some finality, reported again). And just before that, on the last night of a big music festival in Las Vegas, a so-called “lone wolf” gunman managed to use a stash of roughly 20 weapons (at least some of which were modified to be more deadly) to kill in the neighborhood of 60 innocent people, wounding hundreds of others. He did this from a hotel room in a very fancy casino across the street, using long-range rifles. It’s enough to get a person ruminating on mortality. As if living with stage 4 lung cancer wasn’t enough.
Before I get too self-indulgent, however, I should put my thoughts into perspective. Death doesn’t bother me so much; I do not hold onto a fear of dying and I cannot recall a time when I did. But I do have a deep and consistent anger about enabled murder, preventable deaths and injuries (both physical and psychological), and the lack of public will to address the underlying issues that allow such things to continue happening. And in that regard, I suppose, I do have a fear of getting shot. In almost 50 years, I’ve been lucky enough to have been directly threatened with a gun only once — but I’ve still been threatened with a gun. It is hard not to think about these things when a mass shooting happens just a few blocks away from where you had been lying poolside about a month earlier.
There was also this:
My hope is that, regardless of the heated political rhetoric and the endless tributes, we grow from these experiences in an appreciation of our own mortality. As a patient living with a disease that is commonly perceived to be a death sentence, I’ve had the dual challenges of living with (and embracing) cancer as a constant reminder of my mortality and working to define my “cancer journey” as something other than a predetermined road toward an obligatory end.
So, as we tread cautiously toward All Hallows Eve, I encourage my fellow humans to not fear the Reaper, but rather to take inspiration from Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, and celebrate those we love who have died. For those of us still living, the days ahead are but opportunities to work on our personal immortality, and that only comes in the form of the legacy we leave behind.
Be present in your life.
A legacy can only be defined well through active participation. Go on and get on out there, you! Make those remaining days count!