When You Know You Are Dying
About two years ago I learned I was going to die.
I was driving home in the middle of the night into Alexandria from DC. It was dark, and even with my high beams on, I could barely see in front of me. I knew there was a car behind me as it reflected as it passed under the streetlights, but the car’s night lights weren’t on and I couldn’t tell exactly where the car was, I just knew it was driving behind me at my same speed, 80+ miles per hour. Suddenly, I didn’t see the reflections of the car anymore and figured they had made an exit. I made a turn to get on the left lane, and just as I was turning, there they were, speeding next to me. I swerved right to avoid crashing and lost control of the car.
The car flipped for what felt like an infinity across the highway, everything happened in slow-motion. Then the car stopped and I saw the cars coming towards my door. I remember I saw myself as if from a cloud as everything happened, slowly.
I braced myself for impact and felt my body become stiff as I held the steering wheel. I whispering out into the universe, “please give me more time, just a little more time” and closed my eyes, thinking of my mother.
Then it stopped.
I heard the braking of cars around me. My car had skidded in circles horizontally across the highway. I opened my eyes and all I saw was a blinding white light. I wasn’t dead. A car at just arm’s length from my door was flashing it’s lights at me. There was no blood. I looked at my hands, they were still holding the steering wheel. I looked around, cautiously. I had seen enough Lifetime to expect the worst, but there was nothing. Not even a scratch. I think a little bit of my faith came back that night, in those few seconds.
The engine had turned off and out of instinct I turned the car on and drove the car with my body shaking to the emergency lane. After a few minutes I realized what had happened. The first person I called was my mother, and between sobs told her what happened.
I had gotten a little more time. The next week I went skydiving. A few months later I quit my job and switched careers.
The realization that I could have died made me realize I needed to live more fully.
My mother has had to endure this desire for some time. “Mariella, you aren’t 20 anymore, why are you living so vivaciously? Death is going to happen to each of us, but you don’t have to go looking for it.” And I think the reason I am constantly seeking the next high, the next thrill, the next adventure, is because I know death will find me one day. I have been hiding my anxiety underneath my adrenaline.
Perhaps, I now realize, I don’t live vivaciously. I live in fear. Waiting for the inevitable.
And I am happy, the happiest I have ever been. But in the back of my mind, deep in my consciousness, I know I could be living the life I want. And when I lie awake at night and start asking myself why I’m not yet at that point, I are forced to start asking myself harder questions. “What do I need to do to live the life I want?” And then I have to go and start living that life.
And the things that are keeping me up at night lately are all the things I want to do, but haven’t yet done. And the list of things to-do is slowly becoming incredibly long, and I keep asking myself if I have enough time to do them. To climb up Mt. Everest in Nepal, and perform at a salsa show, and visit the Victoria Fall in Zambia, and start my own business as a software developer, and launch my own company for hearing services, and create a foundation to help students from the Bronx get to college… and on and on and on…
There is so much adrenaline and energy I have yet to use, so many things I am working on. So many ideas floating around in my brain that need to be materialized.
And if I found myself in a situation where I could run out of time, would I still be asking for more time, again?
Because when my time runs out, I want to look back on a life that will let me close my eyes and say, “I’m ready, I’m happy with the life I lived.”
Perhaps, because I know I am going to die, that I am dying, the feeling has materialized itself so aggressively in the way I live.
As I write this I am looking up flight to Zambia, three more paychecks and I will have enough money saved in my Victoria Falls vacation fund. I also have a tab open for Project Hearing [www.projecthearing.com] which I am designing over the weekends and after work to educate deaf and hard of hearing people on hearing services and launched two months ago. And I just submitted my application for a baccalaureate degree in computer science because I want to learn to be a better software developer…. and on and on and on. I’m being smarter with, and about, my time.
George Eliot wrote, ‘It is never too late to be what you might have been.’ It is never too early, either. So go, live, because one day, we both will be dead.