“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”
Have you ever noticed that we are a society obsessed by outward appearances? Some fight the aging process with creams, cosmetics and even the knife, willing to endure pain and suffering in order to ‘appear’ younger than their actual age. Those with straight hair use chemicals or burning irons to get their hair to curl, and of course those with curly hair spend just as much money to achieve the opposite aim. We are willing to spend time and money fighting what will happen sure as tomorrow’s sun shall rise: nature will assert itself.
But we buy into a fantasy and a lie told by marketing departments, that somehow happiness is tied in to our appearance, and that beauty can be bought. Yet sometimes the most beautiful woman in the room is the one who is completely natural, wearing her own look with confidence; her spirit shining through. It is the confidence and comfort in her own skin that makes her magnificent, not necessarily the arrangement of her features or the perfection of her form. The manufacturers of beauty products are making millions on our self-doubt and discomfort with ourselves.
When it comes to our health we are just as oblivious, often ignoring the messages that our body is sending us. We spend time in front of the mirror, but less time thinking about what is going on within. Thankfully there is a growing awareness that our health is in our own hands, it stems from the food we eat, the choices we make, and the way we approach a challenging life. But many people still make bad decisions, not thinking of the consequences, somehow believing that the healthcare system will put everything right if and when they break down.
Inasmuch as this is the only life we have (as far as we know!) we have a responsibility to take the best possible care of the vehicle that will carry us from the cradle to the grave. There is a role for the healthcare provider in that journey, but we have a responsibility to provide regular maintenance and servicing, to care for ourselves the way we would care for a brand new Mercedes Benz. That way we get better mileage and less depreciation! And then even if something unexpected and unavoidable happens, we are in better shape to withstand the challenge.
I was recently reminded that as a society we refuse to accept the fact of our own mortality; we put off any thoughts about our foreseeable demise. Buddhists remind us that death is the only certain thing in life; the only thing which is uncertain is when that will happen. Once you accept that truth, you can live your life in full appreciation of what you have right now. Suffering, they say, comes from wanting things to be other than they are. If only….if only I were slimmer, richer, owned a bigger house, a newer car, had a better job, my kids were brighter, my spouse drank less…. These are the thoughts that will torment you and make you suffer. Do what you can to change the things you can change, and then let go of your attachments to the outcomes. There is only so much that we are in charge of.
But the situation that had me thinking of my own mortality, was watching aggressive and invasive attempts being made to prolong the life of a 91 year old woman. She had no immediate family to make decisions for her, and she had left no ‘Advance Directives’, instructions on what she would want done if she was unable to speak for herself. She spent the last weeks of her life in an Intensive Care Unit as her organs failed and her quality of life disappeared. She had been living fairly independently (in an Assisted Living Facility) until whatever health event had caused her to be hospitalized.
It does not have to be this way. The time to think about these possibilities is now, when you are healthy. Would you want to end up being unable to make your own decisions, lying in an ICU surrounded by lines and tubes, being poked and prodded for blood samples to measure the inner workings of your dying cells? What if there was no hope of meaningful recovery?
The virtual world would have you believe that your heart can stop, you can be resuscitated and wake up a few hours later to eat a hearty meal. It is true that advances in medical science have provided amazing improvements in the treatment of disease. Unfortunately the prescription for the miraculous cure is not one which the physician can write.
I write to remind myself of the harsh truths, to make myself more aware of my own limitations and mortality. But I know that we need to do a better job of helping people to be aware of the reality of end of life care in this country. Too many people postpone the thought of death, and leave no guidelines for their loved ones. To the uninformed family member who is stuck having to make a decision under tragic circumstances, what appears to be the right thing to do may actually be the most cruel.
If you have the time, visit this website: http://www.agingwithdignity.org/five-wishes.php and raise the awareness for yourself and your loved ones. We should all live a long and healthy life. But if at the end of it you have not let others know your wishes, you will be subject to their idea of what you would want.
If we accept that life is a wonderful journey that will one day come to an end, perhaps we will better appreciate the sights along the way instead of wishing our life away. Perhaps we will stop obsessing on the unimportant externals and focus on making our spirit shine more brightly. Maybe we will make better lifestyle choices in order to give our body the best shot at that long and healthy life.
May you have a wonderful weekend Family, being aware of each precious breath; being thankful for the beauty of a sunrise; showing gratitude for even the frustrations of a normal life. No matter how difficult or stressed your day may be, there are probably tens of thousands of people who would swap their own reality for yours in a heartbeat!
Happy Birthday Nataki!