On Surviving the Noughties
In the past decade we have watched in horror and disbelief as people deliberately and with malice flew airplanes into crowded buildings, killing thousands. We have watched again and again as a giant wave overwhelmed already struggling people and rich tourists alike, with hundreds of thousands of fatalities. We've seen an entire American city wiped out by flooding, and watched as day after day more and more of them succumbed to the horrible heat and hunger and disease, knowing all the time, to our great shame, that the reason that those people were left to suffer as they did for so long was because of the color of their skin and the level of their poverty, and that this meant that to the powers that be, they simply didn't matter enough. We have seen our country at war on two fronts for nearly nine years. In the conflicts all over the world that our news never gives air time to, people are dying every day due to genocide. The term and concept of "suicide bomber" is no longer foreign to us.
On a smaller scale, just in the last year alone we have seen celebrity after celebrity shuffle off this mortal coil. For those of us who believe that things happen in threes, we eventually lost count of the triplets. And there have been those many more people who although their faces were unknown to millions the world over, were loved and cherished by the people who did know them. In the last two months my friends have lost uncles, aunts, parents, grandparents and children.
In organizing my thoughts over the last few days about what I want to say here, I have come to the conclusion that perhaps the earth is thinning the human herd. Perhaps there has simply been too many of us, and that we are so crowded that we can no longer get through life without rubbing up against each other and the earth in a way that doesn't irritate all those we rub up against.
I won't talk about what the last couple years of the decade threw at my husband and I, because that is a whole other conversation. But out of the wreckage that our lives became, we picked ourselves up and got back in school last January. It has been the most wonderful experience. And then suddenly, on November 3rd, I couldn't breathe. My husband took me to the ER and I was admitted to the hospital with a massive saddle pulmonary embolism. Most people with a PE don't make it to the ER, and many who do don't survive. Mine was of a great enough size that I fell into the "don't survive" category. And yet here I am.
I know that my reason for surviving was because I refused to leave my husband alone in the world. For that first 24 hours that the ER doc told me was so critical, I lay awake all night watching the clock and thinking, determinedly, gleefully "I'm still here!" When they took me up to the acute cardiac telemetry unit in what felt like the middle of the night, on the white board opposite my bed was the heading, "Goals for Today." In my mind I wrote there in big black letters: Survive. And I did. Through sheer cuss-headedness, through the awesome skills of all the medical staff that I had the incredible good fortune to come into contact with, through the love of my husband, family and friends, and through constantly marveling over the miracle that I was indeed, still alive, and just simply delighting in that fact.
That's what I did to survive, and what the people around me did to help me to do so. But there is more to it than that. Call it luck, call it fate, call it some grand design. And that is the part that still puzzles the heck out of me. A few days ago I read a news story about an 18 year old who died after hockey practice. He had complained earlier that his lungs hurt. I don't understand why I survived and he didn't. Don't misunderstand me, I am really, really glad to be here and immensely grateful. I get it, I really do. But I don't understand the why.
We hear all the time, or read stories over and over, of someone who survives the impossible--a plane crash where no one else comes out alive, a car accident that kills everyone else in the car, the one kid who hides behind the desk when the crazy people come through with guns. And the feeling we are left with is that this person survived because life has a special purpose for them that they have not yet fulfilled. Or that this experience is the tempering that changes them into the person that then goes out into the world and does something amazing for mankind. There is always a why, always a reason.
I don't know what my reason is, and I feel like I'm supposed to know. I don't want to go out and change the world, although I see so many things that need changing. I don't have the energy to start a foundation, organize a marathon for a cause or campaign for office. I just want to feel good enough to start school again in two and a half weeks and maintain my straight A's. My goals are no loftier than finishing school, getting a well-paying job in a field that I will love and working there until I retire. I just want to live a happy life with my husband, spend spare time reading and knitting and gazing out the window, laugh with my friends, see Italy.
Right after I came home from the hospital I would sit for long periods of time just looking around me and feeling like a sentient new-born. I saw everything through new eyes, and with new understanding. Our apartment, the view from our windows, the flowers on our balcony, my husband and my life. One night just after I came home I was watching "Studio C" on a local channel, and Marc Cohn was the guest. He talked about being shot in the head a few years before during an attempted car-jacking, and having this same sensation that I am going through. A friend of his wrote something to him in a letter that I found so profound that I copied it down on the back of a nearby knitting pattern. The friend said to him, "Maybe life was curious to see what you would do with the gift of being alive."
Maybe it is just as simple as that. I simply don't know yet.