Choosing the Day I’m Going to Die Has Helped Me Live
Of all the reasons I love my animals, probably the biggest one is that they have provided me the ability to set my death date.
And in doing so, have helped me live.
When I was 8 or 9 years old, my friend Alex Brown used to come to my house in Mountain View from San Jose every morning so we could attend the same school.
Alex and I were the very definition of best friends and partners in crime. We bet each other who could wear shorts the longest (I won, its been almost 30 years); what would happen if we buried a bug in dirt (It escaped); and our biggest scheme, getting me a cat.
My parents, at the time, were adamant that I would grow up pet free. Well, pettable pet free. I had a goldfish and a betta fish and a few others. I had a spider named Norman (until my dad asked him to leave), and an imaginary dog (ok, no imaginary dog. I like to imagine that I had an imaginary dog).
Then one day, Alex announced, with all the pomp and circumstance of a 9 year old, that his neighbor’s cat had had kittens.
A small smirk rolled across my face as it contorted into the wink of an evil genius, and quietly I said, “I want one.”
Over the next few days, we built what can only be called A Master Plan. Alex was going to drop the cat at my front door when he got dropped off for school. He would ring the bell and run. I, in my most, surprised (and concerned) voice would say, “Mom! Someone left a cat on the front door. How sad. Can I keep him?”
Everything was going according to plan. Cat. Door. Morning. Doorbell. I opened the door to this amazing little kitten with a stripe running down its forehead. Of course, his name would be Stripe, named not for his facial decoration, but for the tour de force acting of Stripe in the movie Gremlins.
As I began my speech, “Mom! I …” my mother walked over to the door. Looked at me. Looked at the cat, and stuck her head out the door and screamed, “Alex! Get your ass in the house!”
My dreams were dashed. We had to return the cat. But as Christmas rolled around, what did I find, but a beautiful orange and white kitten being placed in my arms.
And that was the beginning. Over the years we had four or five cats, and I currently have three (well two now since one just puked on my keyboard.)
It was like any other day. My dogs, Billie and Cassidy would come barreling out of the doggie day care I took them to every day and run along the fence that followed the road. They would get about 50 feet, I would call their names and they would stop, turn and with equal enthusiasm and without a break in speed leap into my car mere moments after opening the backseat door.
Except on this day, as they turned to come back we all noticed a boxer being walked across the street as I called for them. Billie, as she always did, looked at me and starting running towards the car. Cassidy made the decision to go meet the dog across the street. Right as a car sped by. The collision was fast and brutal. There was no doubt in my mind as I ran to her that was the last time I would see her alive. I picked her up, she looked at me and with a faint sigh, died in my arms.
Later that night, I was sitting in my room, TV blaring, not hearing anything, except the sadness that poured from Billie. She curled up on my bed, in Cassidy’s spot. Her gaze told me what I had to do, and I immediately went to the Boulder Humane Society’s webpage to see who was available.
As I scanned the listings of available dogs, there was this little dog with gigantic ears. It took a second to know she was Billie’s dog.
As I clicked on the picture, I noticed her kennel name.
And Taylor completed my family.
I have often written and spoken about one symptom of my bipolar, suicidal thoughts. I have had them every day since the age of 12. What I haven’t told anyone is that those thoughts sometime scream in my head and I have to battle very hard to quiet them. I have an internal list of reasons that suicide doesn’t make sense, and who would be hurt by the action, and I review that list almost daily.
But, it’s hard. I don’t always believe myself when I read the list. I don’t always trust that my reasons for living outweigh my reasons to not.
About a week ago, when it was it was particularly bad, I was thinking about how all my pets are about 10 years old, and will all be gone in approximately 5 years.
It became clear to me that I did not want to live in a world where those five animals didn’t exist. So much of who I am can be tracked to how I have had to support, protect, love those animals.
In that instant, I decided that when they died so would I.
And the clouds lifted.
As I started to think more and more about the constraint of having only 5 years to live. (Let me say right now, that this is a thought experiment. I seriously doubt I will go through with it.)
What do I want to accomplish? Who do I want to spend time with? How do I want to live? Why do I want to live?
It’s easy to answer “I would live life to fullest,” but harder to define what “fullest” means.
Would I want to climb Everest or invent a cure to cancer? Would I want to find love, have kids, and leave a legacy?
What I realized was that I didn’t want to live life to the fullest, rather, I wanted to enjoy those five years.
I want to focus on health, because if I was healthy, I would enjoy life more.
I don’t want to start another company, because I wouldn’t enjoy life as I dedicated everything to the growth of that business.
I want to get closer to a small set of people that make life enjoyable just by being part of it.
Mostly, when making decisions, all of a sudden, my enjoyment became a priority. I am a priority.
Which has lead me to the decision to live my life in 5 year increments. To force constraint on the one thing we all wish had no constraint: life span.
By choosing the day I want to die; I have finally learned how to live.