What if you only had six months to live? Having done hospice work this question means a lot to me. The sad part for the terminally ill is that they cannot live to their fullest within those final six months, because their bodies and/or minds have given out. We as hospice workers do our best to make those final months for our patients as comfortable as possible. As a hospice team we provide palliative care in our specially trained areas to reduce the pain of the mind and body.
There is a book by Stephen Levine called A Year To Live: How To Live This Year As If It Were Your Last. It is based on the hospice concept of six months to live, a wake-up call to begin living now before it's too late. Stephen Levine spent a year consciously living this way and reported how it completely changed his approach to life. Ironically, as he began to prepare himself for death, it had the effect of making him feel more alive.
Starting today, like hospice patients, I will begin to live my life as if I only had six months to live. I wonder what the effects will be? Will I quit wasting my time on bitter resentments and begin to focus on what is worthwhile? Will I let go of that in my life that is not good for my wellbeing? Will I begin to notice even more the beauty that is everywhere? Will I start to make better choices authentic to who I am and what makes me deeply happy? Will I begin to feel more alive?
Today was a delightful day. If this were my last day on Earth that would be okay. Let me tell you about my day. I went for a hike in Temescal Gateway Park. My destination was the waterfall. As I was heading to the trailhead, I met up with a family of four--mom, dad, and two preteen sons. They live in Valencia and had never been to Temescal Gateway Park and were perplexed what to do. I told them I was heading for the waterfall and invited them to accompany me. They were delighted with the idea.
The father was able to keep up and the rest of the party lagged, but all were happy. So while I hiked with the dad behind me we had a lovely talk. He and his family were originally from St. Louis, and he shared the cultural differences he has observed since living in Southern California. I shared my star sightings--some of which I have written here. We were laughing and having a great time.
We spent some time sharing our stories about our kids. He homeschools his kids, because he feels the social environment in schools is lethal. I agreed. I was fascinated to learn how that works for him. His kids seem happy, so that's a good sign. I told him about the trials with my daughter quitting high school in 9th grade and how she then became a world traveler and what a wonderful education the road provided her--and how cool and interesting she is, and how what she did inspires me to be brave.
We moved onto the topic of food. I learned about Italian Wedding Soup, something I've never come across in Italian restaurants. He said in St. Louis there's a large Italian population, and you can get really good Italian food there. I complained that the only soup I see in Italian restaurants is minestrone. We laughed.
I told him all about the different hiking trails in the area. His wife works, and he watches the kids. Because the homeschooling provides unstructured time, he takes his sons to do interesting activities during the day, so hearing about the trails was good for him to know. I also told him about geocaching--which I was certain his boys would love.
Then a topic came up that was the icing on the cake for my really nice day. He told me about a beautiful library in Palos Verdes in an area called Malaga Cove. He said the library is very old and that I would love it. Then he mentioned that in Malaga Cove there are wild peacocks everywhere. Well--you know I had to smile given my recent piece .
The rest of the family caught up at the waterfall, and we were able to do the rest of the hike together. We were all engaged and the conversation was flowing. Then we came upon a man with two Australian Shepherds. The dad was delighted, because these are his most favorite dogs. We talked to the owner and found out that one of the dogs is a National Champion. We learned that these dogs are bred to work and don't do well sitting around, so the owner takes them to herd sheep. He said they will also herd children, because this breed doesn't like to see things out of order. I said, "Sounds like they are obsessive workaholics." We all laughed.
Sadly, our hike finally came to an end, and we had to say our good-byes. The mom and dad hugged me as we bid adieu. It was an unusually beautiful gesture from strangers, but we all had such a magical time, and I think they couldn't help themselves. I was so happy I could be there to escort them through the wonderland of Temescal Gateway Park.
My first day of living as if I only had six months was a success. I wonder where this approach will take me? Will my art flourish? Will I do as much good as possible to make a difference? Will I bring more joy to others and help to make their next six months better than ever? Will I grow to appreciate this lovely community more deeply knowing I would have to leave it in six months? Life is short. There's no time to waste.