Live Every Day Like It’s Your _First_ (Update # 15)

Iron Throne, photo by WickerParadise

Last year I met with a shaman (side note: it was totes kosher because he was half-Jewish – a Sh’ma’n?). The shaman was awesome, and mostly what you probably imagine a shaman to be: wise, magical, smelling of sage. He also happens to have a medical degree and shared a story with me.

A few years ago, he had a patient with a suspicious lump in her breast. They did a biopsy of the lump. The patient crying, panicking, asked, “What am I going to do if it’s cancer, doc?” It was a Friday afternoon. He told her, “We don’t know anything yet. It might be cancer, but it also might not be. Go home. Spend time with your family, try to enjoy your weekend. Come back and see me on Monday when we have the results and then we can talk.” Monday rolled around, and the patient walked back into the office looking like a different person, smiling, excited. “Doc! I talked with my husband. I’m going to quit my job. We’re going to move to Europe, travel with the kids, see the world!” “That’s great!,” he replied, “and, I have more great news for you. The test came back clear. You’re fine – no cancer!” Her face dropped, the tears returned. “Why are you crying?,” he asked, puzzled. “Because now I have to go back to work,” she replied.

The awesome shaman/doctor looked at me, as if to say, “get the message? Carpe diem, bitch. What are you waiting for?” But I didn’t respond as he expected.

I mean, whoa, yes, on the one hand, I get it. Who among us cannot relate to this story? It’s so hard for any of us to break out of our patterns and go after our dreams. Cancer can be a huge wake up call and impetus for change. Who doesn’t want to grab that female patient and say “Go! Move to Europe! Travel! Don’t wait for a bad test result!”? “But,” I said to the shaman, “I really have trouble when people tell me to live every day like it’s my last. It’s too much damn pressure. It’s terrible advice.”

Would I have gotten a colonoscopy Tuesday if it was my last day on earth? HELLLL NO. Is there an ass-dent in my couch from pissing away hours of my precious life binge-watching Game of Thrones? Yeah, those bun prints match up. Would I still yell at my kids to pick their freaking clothes up off the floor in my last few hours on earth? Ok, fine, probably. The point is, none of these choices are consistent with living each day as if it were my last, yet I’d make them again and again. Yet, I still really wanted that patient to move to Europe and carpe her diem. “So,” I asked the shaman, “how do I reconcile this?”

He thought for a moment, and then said to me, “How about this, instead: Live every day like it’s your first. What are you curious about today? What does your body need? Your mind and spirit? Shift the focus and pressure from doing extreme bucket-list type things over to an emphasis on living in the present.”

Bingo, bango, damn if the shaman didn’t just solve the riddle for me. I told you he was wise. “Live every day like it’s your first” has become a really helpful motto for me. Some days I have the energy and drive to conquer the world, other days my most ambitious goal is putting on pants. In fact, Update #15: I just survived a week with both a colonoscopy and scans, both of which came back clear. Fantastic! I felt like Arya learning from her master swordsman instructor in Game of Thrones, “What do I say to the god of death? Not today, you bastard, not today.” But, if today is my first day, after an exhausting, but ultimately good week, the most life-affirming thing I can think to do is change into my PJs, crawl into bed and fire up HBO. Tomorrow, maybe I’ll storm a castle.