|Patti Digh is recording the answers of readers to the question “What would you do today if you had just 37 days to live?” Some of these answers are masterful pieces of writing. I read them over, several times, and then I asked myself what I would do.
I know what I would not do: work, travel, or party. I’ve done enough of these things to realize they are substitutes to fill an empty space in us that is better filled with simpler, more generous, more thoughtful, instinctive, joyful and sensuous activities. As you can see from the graphic reproduced with yesterday’s article, I’m pretty organized (perhaps even anal) about what I do and intend to do with my time. As long as I believe I have more than 37 days, I will continue to do these things I now know I am meant to do, in a disciplined and well-paced manner:
to give (ideas, energy, knowledge, capacities),
to be self-disciplined in maintaining my health and expanding my personal capacity,
to reflect, and
to be attentive.
This, I’ve finally come to understand, is who I am.
Perhaps this is who we all are. When I study the behaviour of wild creatures, when I read about how the most knowledgeable and intelligent and admired people in the world live, when I listen to and read the advice of indigenous people, people connected to all-life-on-Earth, it seems to me that this is what they all do. It has just taken me, poor disconnected and confused civilized human, a lifetime to discover what they knew all along.
Recently I’ve been focused on “love, conversation and community” as the means to make the world a better place and to find meaning and purpose to one’s life — to be of use, as my friend Dave Smith puts it. I try to be of use, every day, and to work towards creating what I call “working models” of a better way to live and make a living. Hence my recent passion for identifying and assisting in the creation of Natural Enterprises (self-managed places where people work together responsibly, sustainably, joyfully, and meaningfully) and Intentional Communities (self-managed places where people live together responsibly, sustainably, joyfully, and meaningfully). Natural Enterprises in a Natural Generosity Economy built around Natural Communities. And within these communities, I try to let-myself-change, to adapt and be more authentically myself, and to help others do the same.
But if I had only 37 days to live I think I would suspend these important activities, these model-building and model-being projects.
My father is not well, and he has been told that he may not have long to live. He has always been my model, and I am like him in many ways. He has, for the last year or so, been “setting his lands in order”, as Eliot puts it in The Waste Land just after he describes the thunder fable of the Upanishad: Datta, dayadhvam, damyata — giving, sympathy, self-control. The fact that these three ancient thunders parallel so closely my modern love, conversation, community mantra gives me pause. When I was younger and learning to write poetry my father stepped me through The Waste Land to explain what it meant. He taught me well.
But when it is time to set one’s lands in order, it is also time, I think, to suspend love, conversation and community activities, in favour of quieter, more solitary pursuits. To try to jam a lifetime of such activities into a 37 day orgy of frenzied living, to the point of self-exhaustion, would I think be selfish, futile, and unfair to those left behind to pick of the pieces.
Given only 37 days, there is not enough time to love. Not fairly anyway, for those who would then lose that love. When I started thinking about Patti’s question I thought at first I’d like to spend the time with all those I’ve come to love. But then I concluded that was self-centred and cruel. Love is a drug, after all, for better and for worse, and a co-addictive one. And I’m not really sure I know what love is, anyway, and to try to find out in 37 days strikes me as, at best, ungracious. The words of the Joni Mitchell song Amelia came to mind:
Maybe I’ve never really loved
I guess that is the truth
I’ve spent my whole life in clouds
At icy altitudes
This mingled retelling of the Icarus legend and the more modern legend of Amelia Earhart is, in a way, as much my soul song as Neil Young’s Will to Love, the song about a salmon swimming upstream through much hardship and danger to find the one he knows he’s meant to love. Idealists like me are, most of the time, all talk and no action. Give us what we say we really want and we wouldn’t know what to do with it.
Too late anyway. With only 37 days there is no time for such addictions, or to find what I’ve “never really” been or done.
Likewise, I wouldn’t travel to any of the faraway places on my list of places I’d like to see. Too far away for just a short visit, and besides, there are plenty of beautiful, undiscovered places right here.
My father thinks the wild animals have it right. When you know your time has come, your instinct and your responsibility is to go off by yourself, rest, contemplate, and be at peace with the world.
And that’s what I would do. With 37 days left, I would go off into the forest near where I live, by myself, with a comfortable tent and a bed to sleep on, good walking shoes, practical clothing (as little as necessary), my guitar, vegan food, drinking water, pencils and paper. No electronic or communication equipment except a camera, and no books. I would compose and play and sing songs, and write poetry and a few stories. If I had any wisdom I wanted to impart I would do so in creative writing, through stories, not writings like this. I would invent games that could be played in the wild, without leaving a footprint. I would pay attention with all my senses and all my instincts and all my heart, and fall under the spell of the sensuous, Gaia’s spell. I would run and dance and swim. I would meditate, and I would fast. I would breathe deeply, and explore and learn and discover the miniature truths of the forest. I would sleep soundly. I would be nobody-but-myself.
I would not count the days.
Category: Being Human
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A Better Way to Work
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Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
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Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
Learning From Nature
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Republicans Slide Into Fascism
All the Things I Was Wrong About
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We Make Zero
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Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark
Healing From Ourselves
The Entanglement Hypothesis
Nothing Needs to Happen
Nothing to Say About This
What I Wanted to Believe
A Continuous Reassemblage of Meaning
No Choice But to Misbehave
What's Apparently Happening
A Different Kind of Animal
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
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A Canadian Sorry (Satire)
Under No Illusions (Short Story)
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Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
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Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
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