What would you do if you had one year left to live?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

"What do you want to do with your one wild and precious life?" asks Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver.

It is a question you may have been pondering if you read last week's column which asked "what if you had one year left to live?"

I got many interesting responses on this one, including one from Margo, who crisply observed that she would "Take care of business then ... pray for a cure." The great majority of my correspondents acknowledged the importance of prioritizing their loved ones and friendships with whatever limited resources of time they had left to them.

As one man said, "In the end, love is all there really is. And I don't want to wait until then to realize this."

I did notice an interesting trend. Those who had reported living their life in sacrifice to "taking care of business," or serving others, tended to want to party. Or at least they expressed an interest in doing something that served themselves, whether it be a cruise around the world or studying a subject that they never had time to pursue in their busy lives.

The opposite held true. Those who had the good fortune or just the will to party-hearty throughout their lives, tended to report a desire to spend their limited earthly capital that remained on doing something altruistic ... setting up a foundation for a special cause, bestowing gifts and opportunities on valued people.

These observations did reinforce my long-held belief about us mere mortals that we are all striving for balance in our lives. And, with a time limit on our lives, we had better get busy. As Deborah wrote in an e-mail to me: "I would stop just looking for ... but find the beauty in every moment."

Barry provided an interesting counterpoint about how he thought he should use his precious last days. "I would definitely want to avoid any attempt to use the time I had left to make up for all that I have missed in life. I think those efforts only generate frustration because we cannot make up for anything lost nor stuff enough life into a period of time to mitigate the agony of leaving this blessed earth."

For some, the last year would only heighten their already established journey in life.

John is an example. He wrote:

"If I had only one year left to live, the first thing I would do is be damned sure I only had one year left to live. Then I would rejoice in knowing because I would be able to tell those I love and care about so we can cry now, not later. Then I would celebrate the rest of the time that remains by doing what I've always done, not changing much at all. Be with loved ones. Enjoy exceptional meals and fine wine. Re-read all my favorite books. Be naked every chance there is."

One reader provided me with the following quote, one of his favorites on the subject of our mortality:

"Life should not be about looking your best, or arriving in heaven to make a good appearance. It should be about making the most of every day, living each as if it might be your last. And when you do get to heaven, it should be sliding in sideways at the red line, your hair a mess, a martini in one hand, a Hershey bar in the other, shouting 'Hot damn -- what a great ride!'"

I wish I knew who the author was; we are definitely kindred spirits.

Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a Cape Girardeau native who is a licensed clinical psychologist in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica, Calif. Contact him at mseabaugh@semissourian.com.

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