21. Vitality

My radiation therapy continues to go well, I’m now over halfway done.  The pain in my hip seems to be reducing by the day, and I’ll be rescanned in the last week of June to track progress.  Cross all fingers and toes, please.  I’ve acquired a new skill: I can change into a hospital gown in 10 seconds flat and have learned to tie it so my ass-ets are covered.  Now that’s progress… I just need to figure out if I can monetize this new skill!

I’ve been thinking a lot about quality of life this week, for a few reasons.  The first is that I’m feeling so scheduled with radiation, and I don’t like that it squeezes everything else.  It’s funny because in totality it’s 45-minutes door-to-door, and doesn’t take that much time… but it’s on top of everything else and I’ve been feeling tired.  I look forward to being done on June 12th.  And yes, of course I’m counting!  Radiation is impacting my daily quality of life by probably assisting in the saving of my life.  Oh, the irony drips heavy here, people.

We also happened upon a fun docu-movie on HBO with Carl Reiner, called, “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.”  He opens the movie the way he starts every day, at his breakfast table with the newspaper.  The reason for the weird title is that the first thing he does is open the obituary section of the newspaper, and if he doesn’t see himself reflected on the page, he goes ahead and has breakfast.  That’s my kind of humor!

The movie is about vitality, about the quality of life.  It highlights nonagenarians and a few centenarians who are living a life they love, despite their aging.  I realize that part of it is that these people have nothing to prove, nothing to lose, but they are engaged and spending time doing the things they love.  They don’t live through their past or their previous accomplishments.  The resounding theme is that each day is a gift, no matter what.  I can tell you that with a “terminal” diagnosis, I’m kinda feeling the same way.

Vitality is defined “the state of being strong and active; energy.”  It is “the power of enduring… [of] physical and mental vigor.”  The movie interviews Dan Buettner, who’s keynote speech I had the pleasure of seeing at a conference in 2011.  Dan is a National Geographic fellow, his photos and research on Blue Zones, or those areas in the world where a high proportion of centenarians live, began to change the way I chose how to live.  His definition of vitality is the intersection of a long life with an engaged life, and he’s quantified how to get there.  It begs the question, are we currently fully engaged in our lives, or do we have some work to do to get there?

I was especially impressed with 103-year-old Ida Keeling, who at the age of 67 took up running.  It was on the heels of tragic loss, and on her daughter’s encouragement she put on her running shoes, got out there and trained hard and ran a mini-marathon.  She holds records in the 60-meter and 100-meter distances for women in the 95-99 and 100-plus age groups and is the perfect example of making sweet, sweet lemonade.  I am so very inspired by her.

We only have this one life, this one day, this one moment.  It reminds me of the research I did on grief in the aftermath of losing my mother.  I think it was from Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s book, “On Death and Dying,” about how in all the research, no one got to the end of their life and said, “Oh, I do wish I would have worked more!”  It was more about time with loved ones, time doing things they loved, not spending time on things that don’t matter, like always having a clean house.  It’s a poignant lesson at any age, in any circumstance.  Work is important, it’s the mark we leave on the world, but I’d argue that more important is the legacy you leave in the hearts of others.  To be beloved, not from a place of ego, but from your heart, soul and spirit because it’s the boomerang of your giving and sharing.

Another reason for my pondering was because Dave lost a childhood friend in a freak accident this week.  Gordon was too young, and leaves behind a loving wife, two beautiful children, family and many friends.  While there is little consolation in the loss, he was doing something that he loved when he died.  When you lose a friend at any age, you can’t help but look at your own life.  It provides a contrast in which to evaluate your own experience when someone else’s life ends.

Dave and I lived with Gordon for a few months when I first moved to the US all those years ago.  His warmth and humor was welcome in a new land where I didn’t yet have my own friends.  I fell in love with his pets, Macho the cat and Buddy the mastiff dog, and in that house I had an instant family.  It is a time I remember fondly, spending time in the company of Dave’s family and childhood friends.  I already miss Gordon and am saddened by the loss.  Luckily, our memories live on and can be revisited with smiles and tears whenever we want.

For me, this pondering has yielded further encouragement to keep on keeping on, to trade out my hiking books for a moment and put on my running shoes, and get out there too.  To try to experience each moment more fully, despite feeling tired, even if it is in rest.