Today is the one-year anniversary of my brain hemorrhage. It was not my day to die last November 14. Like Old Lodge Skins, I ended up getting up and going home. Unlike Old Lodge Skins, however, I had not set out that day to die, and, in fact, one of the things I realized after my unexpected brain hemorrhage was that I did not consider it a good day to die.
It may seem obvious that we don’t usually consider any given day a good day to die. But, as I was trundled on the gurney out to the helicopter for the flight from Altamonte to Florida Hospital South, I thought about that line from Little Big Man. It is a line that indicates a life that could be let go, even immediately, with satisfaction in having lived well. As great as much of my life was and is, I didn’t feel that way about it. I’ve spent the last year contemplating how my life (external and internal) might change so that if I do drop dead the next time, I will be sorry to go but not regretful.
One of the things that I know I would want to do is to thank the people who have helped me so much in the past year. In spite of the fact that I escaped relatively unscathed, their support has been crucial as I’ve sorted out the meaning of this event in my life and struggled to get my full strength and vitality back.
First comes Bruce, who was with me the whole way. The pain of this hemorrhage was so bad that I did reach a certain readiness for death—not out of acceptance but out of desperation. At the moment when I thought, “I can’t stand this another second,” the fear in Bruce’s eyes let me know how much he loved me. I’m glad his fear didn’t last more than a few hours, but I’m also glad it let me know that I had good reasons to withstand the pain.
I also want to thank my beautiful family of origin. We have many flaws, but they all pitched in when needed and made a huge difference in the crisis. My mother was here from Virginia in less than 24 hours, and stayed the entire ten days I was in the hospital, helping a shell-shocked Bruce and laying in the meals that we would eat for weeks after, as well as sitting with me in neuro intensive care. My father and brother put their heads together when they heard that Bruce might cancel his trip to Africa (the culmination of a year’s worth of work), and they volunteered to come and stay with me for alternating weeks after I got out of the hospital so he could go and complete this major project. My dad’s wife, Jane, was considerate enough to send along with my dad a new pair of comfy pajamas for me to wear during my weeks on the sofa.
I want to thank my friend and colleague Terry, who stepped right in and took over my most onerous class and who arranged for others to fill in for my other classes. I appreciate all who helped with my abandoned teaching duties and grading for the end of term, but especially Terry, who made all the arrangements, ran materials back and forth, and added a boatload of work to her already heavy responsibilities. Terry and her husband, Don, came to the hospital and told the nurses they were relatives so they could check on me. I thank them for their genuine involvement and caring.
I thank all those who sent well wishes and little gifts in the days I was in the hospital, the students who sent me a box of chocolate, and all those who called to get the story. I thank my many friends and other relatives from all over the country and beyond who have checked in from time to time and asked after me.
Most especially I thank my dear friends Susan, Gigi, Holly, Ivonne, and Anna (and Terry), who have been in touch even more frequently than usual to talk over the shifting meanings of our lives. They say that in a crisis you find out who your friends really are, and you do. These are people who understand the reasonable and the unreasonable in both me and the universe. These are people who overcome the fear in themselves evoked by all serious illness in others and who don’t discredit you for it. As Adrienne Rich notes, “we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us,” but the generosity of these friends has been plenty for me. They have all been through “things” themselves, and they have been great companions on my journey back.
I am blessed by the presence of all these people in my life, my life that goes joyfully on. I may not think that even today is a good day to die, but I would die with much less regret today than a year ago.
“Inch by inch, choking and squirming through sleepless nights, I gave up the practice of art,” (from Sweet Invisible Body in a chapter called Living Off the Looming Darkness)
Remember those words? YOU, more than a decade ago.
And to find that you didn’t give up art, after all. You’ve been practicing, especially in the past year, on canvases of the day, the hour, the moment. You practice with the brave palettes of murky unknowns; with soul-shapes of gratitude and love; with stunned colors of ultimate mystery.
Your art is an inspiration, Lisa.
Continue to be splendid and spread your shine,
Thanks, and I need to get you back more in my life!! See? I think there are so many great people who WILL go the hard way with you. It’s just hard to keep up with what life throws at us.
A lifetime (adult lifetime, anyway) of technical and bureaucratic writing leaves me poorly equipped to be eloquent (especially on a Monday morning), so I’ll simply say that I am really glad that you are alive and I am very grateful that you are my friend!
Thanks, Mark. Likewise. I am very glad that you recovered from your bicycle encounter with the bus. Sometimes what keeps us here is a thread, and I’m glad that wasn’t your day to die, either.
The wisdom of Old Lodge Skins haunts me, even if it was written by an Anglo, but then again I am still trying to live the wisdom of Yoda, which probably makes me a nincompoop of the highest caliber.
The saying “Today is a good day to die” could mean that an old man, at the end of a satisfying life, should not be greedy for more than his share of life; on the other hand, it could mean that one should live every day in a satisfying way, which would mean living simply, so that everyday could be a satisfying day, so that one lives with a sense of honorable scope (“thank you for my victory, and my defeat”). The Taoist in me wishes I wasn’t living paycheck to paycheck, and I wonder if I am being greedy, and ruining my life with my values.
Incidentally, I cannot help but think that Hunter S. Thompson was stalking his ranch, calling out Death for a fight, and Death would not oblige.
I read the Thomas Berger novel of Little Big Man about twenty years ago, when I was an undergraduate in a frontier literature course. Last week I received a desk copy of Research Papers, by William Coyle, and the title page lists him as “Late of Florida Atlantic University.” He was my professor for that frontier literature class, and he was a strangely dignified man, his face chiseled with wise wrinkles, who for some reason tolerated my curiosity. I hadn’t heard that he had died.
I am so glad you are alive. Your friendship, kindness, and wit are among the things I cherish, things that make days good. It’s difficult to believe that we are geographically so close (fifty feet, give or take some concrete, when we are on campus), but so far away, too, with our schedules. I remember being flabbergasted by the belated news, but so grateful that the news was good. And I am still grateful.
I do hope we will be friends for a good long while.
Right now, it’s true that I feel very far removed from campus. In most ways, that’s a good thing.
Yoda said, “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” It sounds a lot like Meister Eckhart, a German mystic I’m reading along with Bruce as he teaches his Western Mysticism course this term. Wisdom in so many places.