(instead of A Jot A Day, you get this)
The Wheel of Fortune
When I first let people know my diagnosis, I had a very morbid thought: some of the people who were responding to me with kind messages of support may actually die before me. They may also become disabled. They may also have their lives rocked by an untreatable illness or major accident.
Of course, that prediction has come true. But I wasn’t particularly prescient: the wheel of fortune goes up and the wheel of fortune goes down. Whether or not you are a pauper or a king, death comes for us all.
Thankfully our brains are really good at shielding us from the inevitable. Most healthy adults don’t walk around constantly worrying about death. But when tragedy strikes it comes to the forefront of all of our minds and we are confronted by the reality that life is profoundly unfair.
We think that we will stave off the reaper by eating well, exercising, and practicing mindfulness. We take vitamins, get enough sleep and drink a lot of water. We hope that it is enough so that we can live a long, healthy life. Indeed, it is definitely the smart thing to do for sure: a healthy lifestyle is a great way to extend what Dr. Peter Attia calls “healthspan.” We all should definitely be doing as many right things as possible. But as much as we believe in the Just World Hypothesis – that the world is fair and we will be either punished or rewarded for our behaviour – it’s just not true. The universe is a random, chaotic place full of unknowns.
We can do all of the right things and hedge our bets thinking we will come out ahead – or at least come out even. But the house ALWAYS wins.
I don’t know if I mentioned it but Mr. Tucker is adopted. Because the universe seems to have a sense of humour, I actually went to high school with two of his biological sisters. Having them in our life feels natural even though we haven’t been able to spend a lot of time together since covid. They are very special, wonderful people.
Unfortunately, one of his sisters has a 25-year-old son who is very sick with an incredibly rare type of cancer. Although he has done all the right things, it has been abundantly clear that he is in his final days. It is profoundly unfair that this should happen to someone so young. He has two younger sisters who are still under 18 and the entire family is just in crisis right now. I cannot think of a more profoundly horrific experience as a mother than to watch your child slowly die…and there is nothing you can do.
My mother always used to say two things, “don’t wish your life away,” for when someone is impatient for the future and “old age is a luxury afforded to too few,” for when someone complains about the aging process. I feel these two things profoundly today as I think of them all at the hospital, eking out what last moments they can steal from death.
Life isn’t fair. We know it as a platitude and we know it as a truth. We pretend it is because it protects our mental health and allows us to go forward and live our lives. It gives us a sense of agency that we know intellectually we do not have. “When your times up, your time’s up” is another one of my mother’s favourite sayings. For some people it scares them: stay inside! Don’t take risks! Don’t endanger your life or security! For others that saying invokes the opposite response: go outside! Take as many risks as you can! Live life to the fullest!
For most of us, life is lived in the in-between spaces. The moments we steal between work and responsibility. The moments we get with our family and friends, to work on our hobbies or to do the activities we enjoy. The risks we take or don’t take depending on our temperaments, our financial situations and where we live and work. If I have one defining poem that I keep coming back to since my diagnosis it is Mary Oliver’s, The Summer Day:
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down —
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
– Mary Oliver
Tell me, what is it you plan to do, with your one wild and precious life?