Monday, March 26, 2012

Everywhere Is Already Here

     A friend of mine, whose husband was critically injured less than two weeks ago when the car a 19 year old woman was driving careened into his motorcycle after she failed to yield at a stop sign, has just updated her Facebook status to read: "My dear girlfriends that have a spouse, I ask that the next time socks, shoes, coins, clothes, bread crumbs, or any little mess left from your partner, thank God for it! Oh, how I miss being at home with mine!" Aside from being incredibly poignant, this request is truly visionary. When I think about what Kim has been through: Michael's accident, his spinal cord injury, his rocky ICU course, it is impossible to fully comprehend the grief and uncertainty she must feel. To add further insult to injury, she learned over the weekend that the young woman who caused Michael's accident posted pictures of her damaged Honda on Facebook, "apologizing" to her car, seemingly oblivious to or unconcerned with the ordeal she created, leaving Michael to struggle for his life. On the surface, this seems so callous, but coming from a 19 year old who likely has no concept of her own mortality, it's not surprising.
     Perhaps the biggest curse of being human lies within the constraints of our egos. We spend a great deal of time, consciously ignoring what we deem to be unpleasant thoughts, especially those which relate to mortality or death. Instead of accepting death as an inevitable part of life, we reject it as something to fear, something which must be prevented at all costs. As a result of this fear and ignorance, we've invented all sorts of myths to explain what happens to us after we die, how we'll be judged, where we'll go, who we'll meet, much of it even scarier than the thought of dying itself. One of my former partners "died" at work one morning while he was eating a sausage biscuit. "Sunshine" (my affectionate nickname for him) had just finished a night of call, and he was tired. Instead of leaving work as soon as his colleagues arrived, Sunshine decided to hang out for a bit and eat some breakfast before driving home. He was sitting on a couch in the anesthesia lounge, in the midst of enjoying his breakfast, when all of a sudden, he slumped forward and became unresponsive. Sunshine's lifeless body was swooped up into the muscular arms of one of the surgical techs, who ran with him to the recovery room, placing him on the stretcher where he would then be resuscitated by his colleagues. As a new partner, I'd heard personal accounts of this story from everyone but Sunshine himself. One day, I asked him if he had any recall of the event; what he described to me was a near-death experience. He told me the last thing he remembered was passing out, and then, being in the recovery room, standing off to the side where he could see his colleagues hovering around someone on a stretcher. "Everyone seemed to be ignoring me." As he stood there observing, unaware that it was himself who was being worked on, he described having an awareness of utter calm and absolute peace. As the story goes, Sunshine was successfully resuscitated after his cardiac arrest, and is still working today. After having that brush with death, he told me he is no longer afraid of dying, that there was nothing frightening or scary about his experience at all, only a profound sense of tranquility.
     When we operate within the illusion of the self which our egos create and perpetuate, we feel isolated and separate. Perhaps this is the genesis of our fears and resentments. We perceive the world around us as a hostile place, full of people and even things with bad intentions. Out of fear of being judged, we are quick to judge others. Everything feels so personal. The gum on the nightstand and the socks under the bed become symbols of someone else's lack of consideration, and seem to take on a personality of their own, like unwitting victims of our misguided agendas. We soon come to resent the people we love the most. Because our egos tell us we came into this world, instead of from it, we feel rather small and insignificant, and we compensate for this by clinging to our idea of how life should be, instead of accepting it for what it is. In this regard, we are everywhere but here. We want apologies, yet we're unable to forgive, so we dwell in the past. In planning for tomorrow, we cheat ourselves out of today. What is there, really, other than this moment in time?
     In transcending our egos, we lose our attachments to time, people, and objects, along with our need to control the physical world. In a way, you could compare this to Sunshine's description of what it was like to temporarily be dead. We lose ourselves, but become aware of the unnameable essence which flows through all of us, from which we were conceived and to which we'll all return. There is no past or future; there is only right now. The razor stubble in the sink just is and we just are, and it and we are all simultaneously everything and nothing. A verse from one of my favorite songs goes like this: "We will all be here till here is there." What I think the song is saying is that the present never really ends, and that perhaps, right now is the only thing we can really be sure of. If that's so, it certainly makes no sense to waste time worrying about when "here" will become "there", fussing over life's little messes. Everywhere is already here.
    

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