Similarly, life is easy to take for granted as well. We are quick to complain about the injustices in our lives and we easily lose perspective. Its only when we really stop, pause, reflect on our life and get perspective, that we can really take stock of what to be grateful for.
Studies have been done about happiness, and the one consistent theme that has come through from happy people, is the choice to be grateful for everything in their life, the good and the bad, on a daily basis. I’ve seen that first hand in developing countries….
I’m experiencing it first hand in my life.
Shutter 1/80; f/8; ISO 200; Focal length 55mm. B&W with a red filter.
It’s that time of year again. The time that is apparently crucial for businesses to turn over as much product as possible so that they can stay financially viable for the following year. I’m not particularly cynical about the commercialisation of Christmas, I’ve grown up only knowing a commercial Christmas, so its part of the whole Christmas tradition. But this year, Christmas has had a different spin for me.
Unless we live with our head in a paper bag, we all know that the Christmas tradition has its’ origins 2000 years ago in a greeko-roman society where Jesus Christ was born. Any Judeo-Christian society today celebrates this, some a little more fanatical than others. This contrasts starkly against a Christmas I had in India 3 years ago where the day passed as little more than news item that evening observing the West’s obsession with this ‘festival’. Ironic given the nature of religious pilgrimages in India routinely number in the 100’s of millions.
The West’s obsession with this ‘festival’ however, has very little to do with it’s origins, and a lot to do with financial bottom line. It’s BIG, because it’s big money, not because a child was born in a manger heralding a new counter-institutional movement (that ironically was later institutionalised).
Commercialism aside, Christmas IS an event that is large on the calendar for us, and routinely revolves around family, the purchasing of gifts, BBQ’s, beaches, and eating way too much food.
This year Christmas has made me think differently.
When people have asked me what I want for Christmas this year (in an effort to buy a gift that is more than just a token gesture) I have been tempted to reply with ‘How about a cure for cancer?’. Given the fairly cynical nature of this response, I havent used it. But it has really hit home just how pretty much any of the items purchased for me will have a lifespan that is longer than my own…
Unless it’s food…
- This time next year, unless I’m extremely unfortunate, I should be celebrating Christmas….
- This time in 2 years, if I’m good at fighting, I should be celebrating Christmas….
- This time in 3 years, unless God Himself intervenes, I should be dead…..
How does THAT make me feel this Christmas???
It makes me feel great Happiness in the now, yet great Sadness at the future; It makes me realise that if material items can outlive me, then the living I have left is short.
Above all, this makes me realise how we totally sell out to the belief we need more stuff.
What we need, is more life.
What I need, is not to die…..
The prospect of limited life has made it a valuable commodity, and material goods a cheap add-on. But instead for most of us, it is the material goods that are the commodity and life that is taken for granted.
More Life is not just limited to a temporal measurement, More Life is also how we live it: it’s reaching out to those who suffer, despite the fact we also suffer; it’s making a difference in the lives around us; It’s building God’s Kingdom; it’s ironically giving up the priorities of your life for the priorities of someone else’s; it’s loving with no agenda;
…It’s knowing that even though I am dying, right now I’m still living…..
What you want for Christmas might be a playstation….
All I want for Christmas is to live…..
Do you ever drive somewhere thats a part of your usual routine, arrive, and stop and wonder, How did I get here again? Do you ever have stop and wonder where chunks of your memory just disappear to? This is a phenomenon that is common to all of us, and happens to us on a daily basis. When I get up in the morning, I usually have porridge for breakfast, there is a routine that I have sorted to make it happen. I know I had porridge this morning, but I cant remember making it! These automatic functions are usually things that are done regularly in our life. They are activities that no longer require the higher functioning thought of our brain, and is well learnt, so our brain passes the responsibilities over the our cerebellum. When we drive, we don’t think about changing gears, popping in the clutch in and out and timing it with the accelerator, it just happens, yet when we first started out…. that was the hardest part!
In life, this all serves a purpose, we would be exhausted if we had to concentrate on every task that befalls us. By automating these tasks, we then allow the higher function part of our brain to concentrate on higher functioning reasoning, such as what we might be eating next, what our next facebook status might be, and musing on how strange that dog looks as you drive past.
The point of all of this, is not to educate to the intricacies of higher brain function but to point out that huge chunks of our life are capable of disappearing into nowhere, where we have no recollection of various activities whatsoever. I think on the whole, this suits most of us just fine, but one of the things I have noticed is when my time is potentially a lot shorter than most, is that I actually value these times!! I don’t want to forget even the most mundane that life has to offer, because there might not be much of it left!!
And so I have learnt, to appreciate even the most ordinary of life; getting in the car to drive somewhere; eating a meal; catching up with friends; enjoying a good coffee; holding my wife in my arms….
Things that might not exist for me in a few years time…
Things that I will be incapable of experiencing…
let alone enjoying…
All of a sudden, every moment counts, be it the ordinary or the extra-ordinary, the mundane or the special. I get frustrated that my cerebellum, doing what it is supposed to do, is stealing my moments from me. I don’t want my life to disappear into an abyss of faint memories, I want it to be real, I want it to be present, I want it to be experiential.
I’m training myself to change this…. if that is at all possible.
Life is far too valuable to let skip by.
When any commodity is in short supply, its value greatly increases; a basic premise in economics. Life is no different. It’s just a pity that it took cancer for me to realise this.
All of a sudden, every moment counts.
Thanks for listening.
I’m currently going through a process at the moment of often saying “This time last year..” and then reflecting on what actually was going on at this time last year.
The one year milestone is not necessarily an achievement, but more a moment to stop and reflect on the somewhat unpredictable detour life has taken in such a short 12 months. Having said that, the recent news in my life means that I might actually begin to measure achievements in years, or months for that matter. Either way, The week beginning Sunday the 8th of November 2009, maps back to the week beginning on Sunday 9th of November 2008, a week where everything changed, or began to change, in a direction that cannot be considered for the better.
Sunday = The day where something ‘wasn’t quite right’. After a mammoth meal the night before, my stomach was up to, what at the time, seemed to be a fairly routine grumbling about the quantity of food I ate. I stopped eating, lest I aggravate the belly below, and somewhat disconcertingly, stopped bowel motions, the latter wasn’t intentional.
Tuesday = The day where 3 days of stomach pains began to intensify. Pains would come in waves anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes apart, lasting no longer than 30 -60 seconds long. The day culminated in a nice bout of vomiting in the evening. This was the trigger point for Hannah and I to head to the hospital. Medical alarm bells were beginning to ring in our head, and the fact that we were due to fly out of the country on Friday was also at the back of our minds.
Friday = after a few days of ‘conservative management’ which is medical speak for ‘have some Panadol and lets see what happens’, the pain was significantly worse. Repeat abdominal x-rays showed barn door signs for bowel obstruction. The Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine (OHCM) says under the heading ‘Bowel Obstruction’ – “Never let the sun go down on a bowel obstruction”. And so, as the OHCM says, we followed. Surgery was 3 1/2 hours long, and what might have been an atypical presentation of an appendicitis became a full-blown right-sided hemicolectomy.
Thursday = 6 days post op: We got the news that the tumour that had caused the obstruction was indeed an adenocarcinoma of T3N2M1 Histology. Almost as bad as it gets.
Friday (21st Nov) = 7 days post op: Incidentally my 28th birthday, I was discharged.
And so… in that short space of time, in the view of the majority of people, life took a turn for the worse.
I however, prefer to think about it differently. Life didn’t take a turn for the worse, it took a turn down an unexpected route. I am the first to put my hand up and say it certainly didn’t take a turn for the better, but I feel that to say it took a turn for the worse might be a little melodramatic!
There are two reason’s I say this. They are:
- Death is nothing to be feared (although arguably the form death might take could be feared). We all die, it’s an inescapable fact of life. Whether Muslim or Christian, atheist or Buddhist, Caucasian or Asian, we die. How we approach this fact (as with all things in life) will determine how we respond to it. By not fearing it, we empower life, which is the part that comes before death. Many people do not fear death for many reasons. For me, faith in Christ is an integral part of that reason, and it is through my faith that the ‘alive’ part of life becomes empowered.
- Life is actually at its most interesting when there are mountains to climb, challenges to approach, and valleys to be descended (and ascended). The previous year where medicine has been sidelined in my life is proof to this fact. I NEED something to fill my time, I need challenges in my life to overcome, I need to create meaning.
It’s this final point which is pivotal. Life by itself will no doubt, by default, fall into a repeating pattern of routine, which, for all intents and purposes, lacks meaning. Meaning in life is not stumbled upon, that’s an illusion sold to us by Hollywood. Meaning is created. We have the choice to create meaning in our life regardless of what our circumstances are.
I’m dying of cancer.
But I’m choosing to create meaning in that.
Christ enables me to create that meaning; on my own strength I would fail.
Again, the final point is pivotal.
So when I reflect on ‘This time last year’.. I reflect on not why, but how, how I can create meaning. This is why life has only re-routed, instead of taking a turn for the worse.
It’s an interesting route to say the least.
Thanks for Listening.
Given the set of circumstances I am in, I often find myself saying to myself, or to God for that matter, ‘It’s not fair!’. There are many reasons that go on inside my head why this isn’t fair. An example might be that there are criminals who live a life of crime who survive into their old age, and yet here am I, potentially dying at the age of 28 (soon to be 29). I thought I had a lot to offer the world. I thought that I was going to to be able to become a doctor, and use my skills as such in some of the poorest places in the world. I wanted to bring justice where there was none, I wanted to bring hope where there was oppression, I wanted to show the world that the way it is doesn’t mean it has to be that way, that WE can make a difference and bring about change. I wanted to do all these things with my life, to make sure that my legacy was one that improved the quality of life of others.
But now I am dying and these things will never be fulfilled….
And criminals rape, they murder, and they rob. War criminals commit genocide and human rights atrocities around the world, and they all get to live into their old age, often with no justice for their victims.
How is that fair?
…. But then I remind myself why it is completely fair.
Two MILLION people were killed by the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia; Children are still being born in SE Asia with deformities because of Agent Orange dropped by the US; 4000 children under the age of 5 die everyday from pneumonia; People in this country and around the world are killed daily by drunk drivers; a two year old toddler falls into a drain in west auckland and drowns; a 22 year old university graduate from otago is stabbed hundreds of times by her boyfriend; thousands of people EVERY DAY die from cancer around the world.
How am I any different from these people??… What makes me any more special that any of these people that die from injustice everyday?
We live in a broken world where crap is part of our daily routine. Very often in the West, we are immune from a lot of that crap, and we forget that it happens. And when it happens to us?… We cry foul….
When I remember my place in this world, which is amongst the broken, then I realise that it might FEEL unfair, but thats just me being selfish. Shit happens in this life and we just get all moody when it happens to ourselves instead of others.
Perhaps instead of dwelling on our own unfortunate set of circumstances, we would do better to be dwelling on those of our neighbours, our friends, our families. Perhaps we should be seeking to be the answer to THEIR prayers and THEIR needs, rather than wallowing in our own sense of self pity.
I’m pretty sure that is what Jesus would do….
In the process of all this, I found peace with the fact that I’m dying…… Interesting…
It’s amazing what a bit of perspective will do.
Thanks for listening.