It's my birthday today and that's fun... also, not.
Birthdays are weird and hard for me. For reasons I've never really been able to put into words but those closest to me just know. Older and wiser people tell me it's silly to be worried about getting older when I'm still so young. And I get that. I do. On some level it is silly to worry about age. But it's also real for me. It's a fear thing (isn't everything?) for me. I know I'm young. I know. But so was she. That's the thing.
I'm just a few short years away from being the age she was. Coming up on milestones... the age she was when... ya know? Probably not, and that's okay. Nonetheless every year it happens. Fear, that ugly old beast, robs me of so much joy. Fear, that wretched creature, lies to me. And I believe him. Sometimes. Not always. On my birthday, yes. Every single freaking morning of my life I wake to him staring at me like a creepy peeping Tom at my window. Hello, old adversary, what are we going to do today? Same thing we do every day. FIGHT.
I win a lot. On my birthday I lose. I do stupid things. I act like a turd. I act out, lash out, then retreat. Clam up. Then eventually I emerge and give another year another good fight. I absolutely love life. I'm obsessed with it. This world, this chance we get, it's so positively riveting. I desperately want to live every second of it WIDE AWAKE. But fear puts me to sleep.
You know how they say to live your life as though each day is the very last you have? I totally get that very important sentiment. The idea is that you are mindful of how short life is so you get it done. Yes. Take that class. Write that story. Climb that freaking mountain. Get it girl. The thing is though that I have literally lived my life extremely mindful of how short life is and it has not accomplished that which the beautiful sentiment of "live like you're dying" is meant to accomplish. Actually being mindful of your impending death is like throwing yourself into the tomb while your heart's still beating. The fear of death is the root of all sin and laziness. Trust me.
Every damn time my foot falls asleep I wonder if it's happening. Is this numbness? I'm in my thirties now. That's when she started experiencing symptoms like numbness. I'm tired all the time. Yes, I have four boys and a job and a crazy beautiful busy life but still, maybe exhaustion is a symptom. My head hurts. Oh I haven't had any water today, I'm probably not dying. I'm probably just thirsty. I can't see straight. Everything is a little fuzzy. This is it. I'm done for. My fate is the same as hers. Oh, there's just a piece of fuzz stuck in my eye. There. Now I can see with my perfect 20/20 vision. There's hope. But I'm still tired.
That's my very real struggle. Yoga helps. Oils help. More time with my kids and less on Facebook helps. Reading fiction helps. Church helps. Gardening helps. But every day is a fight. A fight to not think about death, to believe it's far far far away and life is good and here and now and real and true and beautiful and painful and I can feel and I can breathe and I'm here and I'm doing it and I'm very much alive.
Fear of death has kept me locked up inside a tiny jail cell built of tall, thick walls. I've searched and I've searched for the key. How do I escape and live my life not like I'm dying but like I'm actually alive? I honestly don't know. There are many goals I haven't even begun working toward because they're on the other side of the walls. It's too scary out there. There's so much I want out of this life, so much to do and to see and to live. But I'm stuck. And it's not just about the things I need/want to do but haven't begun doing. It's also about a general quality of life, or lack thereof. Depression is starting to really freaking piss me off. Which is good. Anger is fueling me to act. Through the years I've had little breakthroughs here and there, changes that have at least allowed me to get off of the couch, something that was really hard for a while. It's time to go further though.
I haven't figured it all out but this much I know, True mindfulness of how short life is is not the key to abundant life, it's the cage that robs you of any life at all. It sounds nice to think about how short life is so that you'll live it fully now but for me at least, thinking about how short life is has completely paralyzed me. If I could believe that I have time I'd get after it but at my core I believe I'm doomed so I hide. Blankie and all.
I've been thinking though that if mindfulness is the problem then maybe it's also the solution. If thinking about death is the trouble then maybe thinking about life is the answer. Maybe being actually mindful of everlasting life is the key. Of course, OF COURSE I've tried before to think differently. I've tried to stop seeing everything through a death lens but it hasn't worked. I've tried to tell myself that I'll live a long healthy life, that I'm not my Mom. I haven't convinced myself. I just think too much. I can't shut it off and to me it makes no sense to promise myself I won't die at an age that will traumatize my children because I have no way of knowing I won't and plenty of close up personal experience to bias all of my thoughts. But I still think mindfulness is the answer. I still think that changing my mind is the key.
You see, it's the idea of a short life here on Earth that's tripping me up but no amount of fighting that has liberated my mind from its toxic fixation and freed my soul to pursue the life I really want. It occurred to me this year though that maybe I need to think bigger about this. Maybe this fear of death thing is my cross to bare, my thorn in my side. Maybe I'll always be a little bit broken about that because it's woven into the fabric of my being. But maybe I can find a way to carry it well. Maybe I need to stop fighting it and start accepting it. Maybe trying to cut this ball and chain loose has been a great adventure in going about things the wrong way. Instead of spending all of my time trying to saw the chains away I'm just going to start taking the ball with me in my back pocket while I'm rock climbing and writing poetry and making art and telling stories and feeding people and generally kicking ass at life.
To get to the kicking ass stage I need help. I'll never be able to convince myself that I won't die young but I think I can actually do better than that. I think I can convince myself that even when I die, I'll live. I need to stop seeing life as so small, as just this ball of dirt we're on now, this one short life. So for one year I'm going to meditate on eternal life, the idea that we are all lights that cannot ever be snuffed out. I can't escape the reality that we all die so it's long felt as though I'm shit out of luck, there's no overcoming this fear. But maybe it's not about convincing myself that I'll live on Earth in this life until I'm 99. That'd be great to believe that. I want to believe that. But I've tried and it's failed me. I need a new angle. I think it makes the most sense to believe that we are eternal beings, to believe that our truest existence never dies, that our souls are forever. No one's ever proved otherwise. So I'm going with that and I'm clinging to it like it's all I've got. Despite all evidence to the contrary I do believe that good wins out over evil ultimately and that includes life beating the hell out of death, forevermore amen.
From this birthday to the next I'm going to positively fill up on all things eternity. I'm going to fill up on bible verses, books, songs, poetry, all art that focuses on everlasting life. I'm going to attempt to believe that we never die even when we do and see where that takes me. I'm going to meditate on everlasting life and see if that leads me to living one hell of a good story while I'm here now. Starting with one badass tattoo.
The Phoenix is the perfect symbol for me to cling to. It's not that she never dies, it's just that she rises from her ashes. Resurrection is her jam. "She Rises" was my mother's mantra. So together the Phoenix and "She Rises" are my hope sketched across my arm.