I have a distinct memory from childhood. There is an argument, between my parents, between me and my parents, our whole family gets involved, yelling, gesticulating. We three children are old enough to talk back, but not old enough to get in a car and drive away.
My brother whines. My sister starts to cry. I yell. And then it passes. Our weekend day continues. We are home together in our house. Dad goes back to vacuuming, my brother and sister go back to their television program, my mom to cooking lunch. I see so clearly in this moment from my view on the kitchen floor, all of our roles and how we are playing them, how we are missing the point by being somebody’s with to do lists and ideas and pressing problems.
I am rocked by what I see, though at the time I cannot name what it is. I can’t find words to express what is inside of me, begging to come out. I lack the skills to say anything at all. I feel the urge to fall screaming to the floor, to pound my fists and bang my heels into the tiny blue tiles of the kitchen, which is the thoroughfare of our lives, connecting family room, hallway to upstairs, and backyard. I want to say over and over in that public place where everyone will hear me, “We’re alive, we’re alive, we’re alive,” my voice getting louder with each chorus, “We’re ALIVE, We’re ALIVE.” I want everyone to stop and look at me and acknowledge this fact, this one obvious yet in almost every moment ignored fact, “WE’RE ALIVE, WE’RE ALIVE, WE’RE ALIVE!”
I don’t know what I wanted to happen after that. I just wanted a pause in the busyness of our lives, in the way that we talk to each other but don’t, in the quickness with which each week passes, I wanted to slow it down and feel it fully but with everyone, not alone.
It is a strange fact that we love so fully. So bizarre to realize that we throw our hearts completely into love and life, and also that we will all die. “Every person you know will die. Every single one, including you.” My mentor Jennifer said this to me once. The words penetrated my brain, dripping down through the tissue like standing water into a porous rock, slowly, slowly until I could feel them. Until they weren’t just a concept, until they were more than words.
“Everything is going to end and change. Everyone I love is going to die, I am going to die.” I repeated this to myself for weeks, mulled it over, ran it between my fingers to feel the fabric of it, drank the words like a secret elixir that everyone knows but few acknowledge.
“We’re alive and it will not last. We’re alive and it is fleeting and precious. We’re alive and what we do or don’t do with our lives is not such a big deal as we make it out to be.”
When I was a child I understood this. When I was in my twenties I read about “the human condition” and remembered it from an intellectual standpoint. Now, I feel it everyday. It is this teaching about death that reminds me to be fully alive in this world, no matter how fleeting, now matter my age, no matter the circumstance. It is the most humbling of all things. We will die. And right now we are alive.