I just paid a visit to a therapist on Long Island, an acquaintance who runs a neighborhood support group for trauma survivors.
The subject had always interested me, but the talk over the course of a 45-minute session seemed to turn emotional when she brought up death.
“People ask me if I think everybody is going to die,” she said, “but here’s the thing: We know that. All we want to know is how do we go on. How do we keep going?”
She pulled me off-handedly aside, asking me how I was doing.
I’m not sure I have a ready answer for this one. From my personal perspective, I’ve only experienced a minute or two of real loss, just when it seemed that my life was on an increasingly upward path.
In general, I feel that I have moved past most of the anxiety caused by acute death—a tumor on my lungs, a serious injury—which I had experienced just in recent months.
I’ve had to get used to a sense of calm that comes, not just from the knowledge that I’m fairly healthy at this point, but from the awareness that I can see clearly around me and that time has restored to me a fundamental sense of self-control.
I have also heard enough to know that I will likely face moments of terror and terror—in the form of natural disasters, in any number of unpredictable situations—when I’m not close to home.
It’s hard to have conversations about death, of course, because real pain is involved.
But I feel, if nothing else, that I have come close to the usual list of things to deal with.
At many workplaces I’ve encountered folks coping with something every day that causes them to cross themselves: thank-you notes from managers, agonizing post-it notes that mean “I love you,” customer service delays.
I can get used to that kind of thing too.
I’m reminded of the self-imposed dance between the fears that are looming over me in a big way and the rapid onslaught of small events that happen every day.
That’s why it’s so tempting to make a pact with myself, to sign up for countless mundane tasks, the only difference being that I, and hopefully you, will return them in gratitude.
I already have deals in place with myself about taking the bus rather than driving my car (which isn’t always an option, since I’m far from a city of public transportation options), how to get those diapers changed in a timely manner, when to leave my son in day care and when I need to call my parents.
I will be grateful for the chocolates and cookies every Halloween I receive, the painkiller from a doctor when my back cramps up.
Every little thrill, a sun or an afternoon delight.
I can try to adjust, even to the point of crying, for the fact that a heart attack probably won’t strike before I have a chance to do all the things that make me feel full and satisfied.
What will I do with my first 15,000 iPhone photos? What will I do with my first opportunity to do side work?
What will I do if my boss and I go to a restaurant and I wish I was home nursing my child?
“Look,” she said, pointing to a bracelet on her right wrist. “Do you have a bracelet?”
Oh yes. It’s a bracelet I’ve worn for four years, since I lost a friend in a way I’ve never quite grasped.