I have been traveling around the world for two years doing mostly nothing. The places where I did the most nothing are probably Indonesia, my six weeks in Japan and my collective three months in French Polynesia, but I have done nothing all over the world.Read More
The current state of my life — mostly alone, sometimes forgotten about, with family members vehemently opposed to my chosen lifestyle, a sick dog, adjusting to stationary life, light on cash, job seeking and with no idea what I’ll do next — is exactly what I was looking for in travel. It’s a real life, in your face, lesson-producing struggle. And I’m so grateful for it.Read More
We didn’t know at the time that our relationship was doomed. It wasn’t like we had gotten the dog as a last-ditch effort to save our marriage like some do with a child. We just both connected over this shared empathy and affinity for pit bulls and knew we had to get one.Read More
“In my life right now, I’m eighty. There is so much left to do. So I would like to go back and give myself a bit longer, but as it is, I don’t know how long I have to live, but certainly it is that every year takes me closer to the end, whenever that end is. And so there is this feeling of desperation - there’s so many places I want to go, so many people I want to talk to, and so many hearts I want to reach.”
— Jane Goodall, Human documentaryRead More
Recently a friend and I were sitting at a cafe when someone walked by, apparently talking to himself. I looked over to her with wide eyes and high brows like, “Yikes.” She said, without a hint of sarcasm, “Let’s assume he’s got a bluetooth in his other ear.” That struck me; I realized it’s a really powerful thing to give people the benefit of the doubt.Read More
For the past week I’ve been convinced that I’m about to die as a result of a brain-eating amoeba with a 99% fatality rate.
See, if you contract this amoeba, you end up with meningitis, and there are only about three cases of people surviving this thing. Ever. The amoeba lives in warm water and gets into your brain through your nose. My sister and I did this epic two-day trek in New Zealand and at the top of the trek, there were these super hot geothermal pools. It felt incredible to soak in the water after a day of uphill hiking, and it felt like the natural waters were melting away the tension in my muscles. Soaking flat on our bellies in less then twelve inches of water, we rooted down in the silt to immerse our bodies in the shallow water. It was pitch black out and near freezing, and all we could see through the beam of the flashlight were the thick, wafting, spirit-like sheets of steam in the night sky. We closed our eyes and breathed it in.
Anyway, since then I’ve been about to die. The Department of Conservation warning sign outside of the pool said not to dunk your head under water to avoid contracting the amoebic meningitis. And I didn’t. But the next day I started feeling a sore throat, and a headache, and possibly a tingling in the top of my spine, and was that also a frontal lobe headache? I worried that I contracted it when I may have scratched my nose and that’s how I was going to die, from a nose scratch. Apparently the only way you can contract it is if the infected water is insufflated (good word) deep into your nasal passages where the amoeba can attach itself to your olfactory nerves in your brain, and start having dinner up there on your brain I guess and no more than eighteen days later, you’re dead, with doctors having less than a 1% chance of saving you.
I don’t know why I was being such a ridiculous hypochondriac about this. But that’s not the point. What I want to tell you about is how this (imaginary) brush with death affected me.
When I read the list of symptoms and identified with the majority of them, the realization that I could have this deadly disease hit me. I could die in less than eighteen days, I thought. I looked up from my Google search results.
“I cannot die. I’m not finished with my book.”
Just like that, in the face of death I found clarity. And it was that one thought that helped me realize that this book, You Might Die Tomorrow, is part of my life’s work. See, I believe that thinking about death, or the possibility of dying, or remembering that life is short or whatever you want to call it, strips away everything to reveal what is truly important in one’s life. There’s something about being faced with one’s own mortality which provides perspective like few other things can. In a life or death situation your brain quiets and your intuition screams out. Steve Jobs said, “Remembering I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death.”
Last week when I was convinced I had only a few days left to live as a result of amoebic meningitis, every day that I woke up I was thrilled. I had made it another day. My coffee tasted more delicious. I worried less about money. I bought less stuff. I had another piece of chocolate. Traveling with my sister, I realized I would be content to die doing something so special and meaningful. But most importantly, I realized I’ve got to finish this book. Even in my imaginary near-death experience, my lessons were life-changing.
I’m still not in the clear from my hopefully imaginary disease. It can take up to fifteen days for the serious symptoms to present. I’ve realized I’m most likely just getting a cold, but I wouldn’t trade my imaginary brain-eating amoeba for anything. In the face of a fatal disease - imaginary or not - I found out what’s truly important to me.
One day, I cleaned up the kitchen a bit before rushing into work for a regular day. For some reason, I decided to come home an hour early. As I stepped onto my porch, I peered through the glass door and smiled at my dog, Pajamas, sleeping on the couch. I swung open the door, so happy to see her - and was immediately enveloped in the putrid smell of natural gas. Pajamas raised her little head (okay, she’s a pittie, so it’s kind of a big head) from the couch and gazed at me as if in a stupor. I ran over, heart pounding, and grabbed her by her pink collar and dragged her outside into the fresh air. I began frantically waving my hands in front of her snout between hugs and apologies for almost murdering her. Oxygen! Oxygen! It probably looked a bit like I was prostrate and bowing repeatedly to her, Queen Pajamas of Austin. Part “I’m so sorry!” and part “I’m really not worthy/capable to care for an animal!” Once I felt fairly certain she wasn’t dead or about to die, I went inside to open windows, turn on fans and figure out what the hell happened. Ah - I had tweaked the knob on the stove so that for more than seven hours, natural gas was pouring out of the stove with no flame. I had locked my dog in a veritable gas chamber all day long.
That night, after the gas had dissipated into the evening air and I tried to win back my dog’s affections with steak and tennis balls, I thought about what might have happened had I not decided to come home early. I allowed myself to feel how I might feel if Pajamas had died. The guilt was there, of course, but it was mostly sadness and yearning for my best friend. My attempted murder of Pajamas reinforced, for me, how much I love her and appreciate her. Death has a way of doing this, showing us our true feelings. It also has a way of reminding us what’s important in our lives. So sometimes, like last week when I left work to go shopping, halfway down the road I took a screeching right and skipped the mall to take Pajamas to the dog park instead. Because if she was going to die tomorrow, I’d want her last day to be a steak and tennis balls kind of day.