As a lover of books, there are tons of them on my “read someday” list. Last night, I choose a book from that list and within the first 10 pages, I knew that it is one of those books that will stay with me forever. I will come back to it again and again for its’ many lessons. Unfortunately, I am, as my Mom used to say, “hardheaded” and it takes me numerous attempts to accept even the most integral lesson. If you are interested, as I am, in living your life to its fullest, perhaps this book can offer you some wisdom. I encourage you to buy or borrow this beautiful and inspirational book.
By now, you are probably thinking, “What book?” The book is Patricia Digh’s “Life is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful and Live Intentionally.” http://goo.gl/WB1d. Ms. Digh intends the book as a guide to “living each individual, glorious day with more intention,” however many days you have left in your life. The book reminds us that we are meant to be active participants in our lives, not passive bystanders watching our lives flash before our eyes. Who among us, couldn’t use such a reminder every now and again? But, what insight did I glean within the first ten pages? It came via a eulogy.
Ms. Digh wrote about a dear friend who was told that he had only a year to live. All that we know about how he lived that year is through a, seemingly close, friend’s eulogy. As an attorney, I should jump up and shout, “Your honor, that is double hearsay,” but this is not the courtroom, this is the real world and for personal reasons I can assure you, this passage left me deep in thought. I can imagine the speaker, standing before a large group full of people, saying these words about his recently departed friend:
“He continued to live the very life he had been leading before his illness. This was his life. His account of his days, his heart of wisdom, lay in the very passions and commitments which he embodied daily. Day by day, this determination not to run away from his life took more and more courage. The pain increased. The exhaustion mounted. And yet, just three nights before his death, [he] was still in the classroom, still reaching out to others, still using every bit of his energy to make the lives of others better.” http://goo.gl/WB1d.
The passage was so striking to me, because it was so contrary to how I handled my own illness after I had to stop working over six years ago. Before I get to the after, perhaps I should explain how I came to stop working.
Fibromyalgia caused me to halt my active litigation practice. I believe that I’ve had fibromyalgia since 1996, so it has been with me for quite some time. For those unfamiliar with fibromyalgia, it differs from one person to another.
“In trying to explain fibromyalgia, the American College of Rheumatology uses an effective analogy. They say that for the person with fibromyalgia, it is as though the volume control is turned up too high in the brain’s pain processing areas. Consequently, they endure chronic pain across much of their body, despite no evident source of that pain, in addition to a wide range of other symptoms including chronic fatigue and muscle soreness.” http://www.myfibro.com/what-is-fibromyalgia.
If you are interested in more details about fibromyalgia, please refer to “What is Fibromyalgia” link on the home page.
By 2004, the pain became such that enduring it one day at a time became, after a while, one hour at a time. Later when that too became too onerous a time frame, my mantra became “if I can just get through one minute at a time.” The pain was unrelenting, and none of the doctors, medications, or alternative therapies were of any benefit. There came a time when one minute was far too great a goal to meet, so “one second” became the new target. Of course, it goes without saying that my time finally ran out, and I could no longer hold on. I had to stop working. In hindsight, that is the day that I stopped the fight and surrendered to fibromyalgia.
The man from the passage in “Life is a Verb” died, but he died as he lived, participating in his life, not running away from it. I, on the other hand, though in comparison, blessed to have a chronic illness and ever more fortunate to live through a recent diagnosis of a bilateral pulmonary emboli, can I say the same about me? The answer is a resounding “no.” No, I ran away from my life thinking that doing so would distance me from this illness, from the pain, but as Jon Kabat–Zinn aptly states “wherever you go, there you are.”
The eulogy provides me a framework for living life in spite of my illness. To my knowledge, there is nothing in the “Dummies” series on how to deal with illness. Fibromyalgia has been an anchor around my neck for so long and I’d allowed it to drag me to the deepest, darkest depths of the ocean, far away from life as I knew it. For me, the meaning of the eulogy is clear, living a full, intentional and meaningful life and illness are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to have both. I am ready to live my life, illness and all. I am not running anymore. I’ll be right here.
If we remain open to them, the opportunity for a lesson learned may well be found in the most unexpected and unlikely of places– even a eulogy.
Life Is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful, and Live Intentionally
Wherever You Go, There You Are (ROUGH CUT)
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