Last night the somber news was circulating around the mountain climbing community here in Ecuador that 3 Swiss people had fallen into a crevasse while climbing Cotopaxi the night before, and one woman had died. But the thing is, I had been staying at the same small lodge as them the previous night; we had briefly crossed paths; Melanie told them it looked like good weather and wished them luck.
I didn’t speak to the woman who died, but our eyes met momentarily and we shared one of those shy smiles you do with a stranger. She was a slim woman in her 50’s, there with her husband. I saw her and wondered I wanted to be her one day, still climbing and adventuring. And then I forgot about it and just went on about my life. Neither of us knew that in only a few hours she would die.
I’ve always been disproportionally affected by the death of strangers and people in my outer circle of acquaintances. I don’t know how to explain it, except through the words of John Donne’s poem, For Whom the Bell Tolls:
“Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.”
I’ve been feeling this in a particularly strong way the past few weeks. A girl I shared bridesmaid duties with was diagnosed with brain cancer and with in a year leaves behind a 15-month baby and new husband. The startling email from the manger of a woman I regularly emailed with regarding customer orders and shipping compliance, saying that after a short illness Kelly had died. She was only a few years older than me. A friend of Jorel’s saying ‘good-bye’ on Instagram, knowing her time is drawing very near.
And it breaks me. There are no guarantees. Life is so fragile, so easily broken. Its like I’m suddenly realizing we don’t get any promises to live to a certain age or something. I guess I’ve been walking around with the assured assumption I’ll make it to Grandma’s age, 91, because, well, I don’t know, just because that’s how it’s supposed to work. Until it doesn’t.
and it makes me question everything. Like what am I doing with my life?? i’m not so much afraid of dying, but i’m afraid of wasting these very few precious moments that we get. like if knew i only had a X amount of time left, would i even be doing most of the stuff i’m doing?? i’m only doing half of it because i feel like i have all the ‘time in the world;’ time to waste even apparently. But we don’t. we don’t at all.
And I know this is all rather cliché and obvious, but I’m sitting here wiping snot and tears into my kitchen towel because the realness of it all is just so overwhelming to me right now. And I’m writing this all down, not so much for you, but really for me. So, I don’t lose the feeling of it, the dire urgency.
And maybe this all seems like a rather sad and depressing topic, and it would be easy to say, ‘lets just focus on the positive,’ but I can’t help but thinking “No! We need to think about this more!” We tend to ignore this in our culture, but we need to realize that there is an urgency to everything. We need to stop wasting so much time. I don’t know what to do yet, but I need to fix this now. If these are going to be my last few years, my last months…our last few moments to taste the incredible, yet fragile, beauty of this life, I need to embrace and savor them now.
note: I wrote this post back on November 4, 2019, but was afraid to post it, for fear of being melodramatic or too much, or just not being able to catch the feelings quite right, but finding it again today, it still feels real and worth sharing.