My cancerbuddy Katie recently brought to my attention the sheer ridiculousness of the comment “live like you’ll die tomorrow.” Since, I hear it everywhere. It seems everyone is telling me, or telling someone in earshot of where I am, that they should “live like they’ll die tomorrow.” WHY?!?!?!
Don’t they know, that if you live like you’ll die tomorrow you will be insanely stressed out? Don’t they know, that thinking you could die when you are 25 or 30 or 35 is terrifying? Don’t they know that you can live fully and sincerely and wholly and exuberantly, knowing that you will be alive tomorrow? Don’t they know that the precarious state of thinking you might die is horrifying? Don’t they know not being able to depend on your life to be there tomorrow can take your breath away?
Clearly, whoever coined that saying wasn’t thinking about dying in the intimate way you do when you have cancer. And those who repeat that phrase don’t really mean it. What they mean is, live fully. Take risks. Love. They have the privilege though, of living like they’ll die tomorrow without actually having to face what it might mean to consider dying tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year.
Today, someone who has fast become a friend I treasure got horrible news. Cancer makes fast friendships. Everything else falls away and you find yourself talking about the most intimate of ideas with people you just met. We know we might not have enough time, and we’re spiraling down this pathway of madness, and so we grab a-hold of each other quickly and we try not to let go. We become fast friends even though we don’t know each other well.
For the last many days, I’ve been hoping that today my cancerbuddy S was going to get awesome news. I knew she was going to get good news, and she really needed it. I was wrong. She didn’t get the good news. She got really hard to digest news. And now the doctors don’t know how to manage her cancer. Does she want to live like she’s dying tomorrow? NO WAY. We want her to live like she’s got decades to come, because WE WANT HER TO HAVE DECADES TO COME. I want to get together with her in thirty years and laugh over how backwards it is that we talked about constipation before we talked about our favorite ice cream flavors. I am still certain we will get out of this, both of us, but right now we’re with cancer, and we’re staring death in the face. And I, for one, don’t want to “live like I’ll die tomorrow.”
When we say “live like you’re going to die tomorrow” we don’t actually want to live like we’re dying tomorrow. But people, that’s exactly the problem with language. People say what they mean except they mean something else, and it’s so confusing. And even worse, people say one thing, like “live like you’ll die tomorrow,” without understanding what it feels like to die tomorrow, and glorifying some effed up freedom they think exists with “dying tomorrow.” And in the end, all that does is make people who are actually staring death in the face misunderstood. Alienated, because there’s not much great about dying tomorrow. Enraged, because people threw around the notion that someone would possibly want to live staring death in the face.
I’m living like I’ll live for a million years. I want to feel like I can plan forever. I want to feel secure knowing that Sammy and I will be able to have babies and see them into adulthood. I want to know there is time to write the books I have inside my head. I want to go to Mexico in the next few months. I want to plan ahead. I want to travel far and wide. I want to collect cowgirl boots. I want all kinds of hundreds of things that all involve planning into the future. Mostly, I want to depend on the future and I want to know the future. I can only live this way, which is an optimistic act. A radical act, in the face of cancer. The only act I know how to act. Living like I’ll live for always, not living like I’ll die tomorrow. Living like I’ll die tomorrow feels like I’m already dead. No thanks, dudes.
I want more. I want to live like I’ll live forever.