On my third hospital stay, I was pretending to be asleep when the team of young doctors told my elderly roommate he had an inoperable tumor. I wanted to just walk over and hug him. Laying there, I couldn’t help but to imagine myself receiving the terrible news. “You’re dying.” I believe their words were, “you aren’t a spring chicken anymore, if we operate, it could be game over, do you understand?”
“Unfortunately, yes.” He responded.
I really hope my doctors never say things like, “‘spring chicken’ and ‘game over’” in connection with the end of my life. I wish that I could have held his hand when he received this news. I awkwardly made eye contact with his team as they walked by wondering what I would think and feel in this moment. Regret? Guilt? Fear? What would I redo? What would I do next?
I got up to use the bathroom as an excuse to see if he was awake, but he wasn’t.
I don’t know why, but during my hospital run over the past month I was surrounded by death. I know it is just the nature of hospitals to deal with end of life care, but it’s a reality we all would rather walk around than acknowledge. Even though we might know (spoiler alert) that we are all going to die at some point, we don’t usually give it much thought.
With the end it mind, I think it forces you to look at your life, now. By far, this post has been the most difficult to write because it’s a personal reflection on the death… or rather I should say, life. I know everyone deals with death differently and I want to be sensitive to those who are literally walking through the valley personally or with a loved one. I pray that you might receive a tangible sense of comfort in the infamous words of David in Psalm 23, that in the midst of walking through the darkest of valley, fear no evil, because the Lord is truly with you.
Just as a disclaimer, this post is far from resolution and I expect it to evolve and change, so please excuse the half-baked cake taste you might have in your mouth after reading this post.
The kids have a saying these days, “you do you”. While they use this as an off-hand remark about a person’s selfish desire, to “do what’s best for them”, I think there is something to be said about this idea that we control how we respond to the uncontrolled elements of our life. So in this spirit, these are my thoughts:
1. I’m mortal, but can’t let that excuse selfishness. It’s easy when facing death to just “do you”; to do what you want, when you want. The feeling however, is normal. Shoot, I had to face this. Laying in that bed listening to my roomie receive his prognosis, there was part of me that just wanted to quit my job, move myself to the middle of some tropical island, sell my house and buy all the things I lust for in this life that make me go fast, but then I was struck with a thought, “really?” The world doesn’t need me to die as another @/$:(% that only thinks about myself in the quest to live by “you do you” as if I was void of all purpose in this life other than blatant hedonism which is probably driven by my own self pity. What would it look like to “do you” without self-destruction? How about doing what you would do if you were driven by love instead of fear? Or a life full of grace instead rigidity? We create our own legacies. As I look at the great story lines of humanity, the ones we remember are often people who recognize to some degree that they create their own legacy by giving their lives away rather than taking what they can, as much as they can, when they can. I’ve been to and/or presided over many funerals, but my favorite memorials are of those who have chosen to pour their life into others. The beauty in the memorial of their life is just a matter of getting out of the way and letting the stories speak for themselves. I think “me doing me” should bring out the best in others, and in doing so, bring out the best in myself.
2. 500 words a day. As I reflected on what this means for my own life, I’ve come to realize how much my life has been dominated by fear. Fear of letting others down, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of regrets, and the list could go on and on. For the longest time I dreamed of writing, but I was afraid I didn’t have anything good to say or that I wasn’t a good enough writer. I’ve realized how silly it is that I’ve always wanted to learn how to cook, but was too afraid of messing up dinner. These past few weeks I’ve decided, why not? I might not publish a New York Times best selling novel or cook at a Michelin 3 star restaurant, but I can blog or experiment with bold new recipes. I’ve decided to write 500 words a day, whether that is in my blog, a journal, or in a Word document, it is time to turn my dreams of writing into paper and ink. As for cooking, the worst thing that can happen in cooking is messing it up and trying again. If it can happen to the best chefs on Cutthroat Kitchen, it can happen in my kitchen. So, if I see something that looks good on Pinterest, I’m going to attempt it. Perhaps for “me doing me”, cooking is a lesson in learning how to deal with failure and writing is learning how to with less fear of being made known.
3. Don’t quit your day job, yet. I don’t think it’s possible to think about your mortality and wonder what you have been doing your whole life. In fact, I wonder if it’s possible to think about your mortality without the urge to quit your day job! But, let’s slow our roll. I think that there is a difference in what I do for work (vocation) and what I feel like I was created to do (calling). I feel blessed enough to say that at this time in my life, what I do for my job is doing what I feel like I have been called to do. There have definitely been moments in my life where a huge gap existed between my calling and my day job. Moments where I was certain of my calling, but was checking the temperature on burgers making sure it was safe to eat according to government standards. On the other side, I think I learned some valuable lessons about serving people joyfully, regardless of my situation. In retrospect, running food out to tables, getting elbows deep in a tub of honey mustard with the world’s tiniest spatula, and making the best looking burger I could make was more about developing my character than creating a “smiling burger”. I don’t think anything goes to waste. None of your past experiences. None of your mistakes. None of your ailments. I think it all speaks to the incredible power of redemption. So, I think “me do(ing) me” means being who God has called me to be, and doing what I believe, He has called me to do, regardless of my situation and what is in front of me. Perhaps “me doing me” in this regard, will leave me with less regret, more joy, and maybe even a sense of completion when I do hear the words, “you’re not a spring chicken anymore”, but until then, I’ve got a job to do.