Monday, February 22, 2010

Death Will Come Knocking, So How Shall We Live?

With all the dire situations facing us, I'm in the camp that believes we're about to face a massive human die-off. The earth can't sustain the numbers we have, particularly at our destructive level of consumption, so she'll restore balance--at the expense of many individual lives. If it happens or starts to happen this century, do you believe your life be spared? Will you be among the chosen few?

I think we all tend to believe, automatically, that catastrophe will only strike someone else. We're so geared for survival we think we're invincible, so while we may accept there will be a massive die-off, we just assume we won't be among the dead. That's awfully presumptuous of us, isn't it?

I decided a long time ago, when I first looked at this issue, that my survival just doesn't even matter. I guess I've always been able to see the bigger picture--that we're all part of a process of creation and unfolding, that consciousness is a collective phenomenon. My individual life doesn't matter except for the fact that it's part of an unfolding, evolving pattern. I participate in that process while I'm here in this particular form and then I surrender gracefully. When my life ends the process of creation continues. All of the elements of my body get returned to the larger community and continue to participate in the process of unfolding. Beyond the physical aspects of it, I believe that energetically I go on as well. Not me in this persona, but me nonetheless. Does it matter how long I wear this particular persona, this cloak that is and isn't me? Why is 78 years preferable to 40 years if I'm indestructible anyway? Why cling to this form so desperately when I know it's ephemeral--a blossoming forth from the greater matrix which is here today and gone tomorrow? The question is really, how do we live knowing that we'll die?

This past week I've had to come face to face with the issue of my own mortality. Fourteen years ago, when I was pregnant with my son, I was diagnosed with a congenital defect of the aortic valve, what's called a bicuspid valve. A normal aorta has a three-leafed or tricuspid valve and those flaps open and close to let the blood through. A bicuspid valve has only two flaps, creating more of a slit instead. I was told at the time that this wouldn't become an issue until old age, when in all likelihood I'd have to have the valve replaced because of a greater chance of calcification. But lately I've had more and more serious heart-related symptoms, so I figured it was time to do some research. Apparently, since '96 they've learned a lot more about this. It's not just a defect of the aortic valve, but a whole connective tissue disorder that affects many parts of the body. People with the disorder typically have hyper-flexible joints, flat feet, scoliosis, issues with the spinal discs, an increased risk of hernias and a host of other problems. The most serious issue is a weakness of the aorta and the arteries of the head (they form from the same tissue) leading to a high risk of aneurysms and dissections. If you remember a few years back, this is what caused the death of actor John Ritter. And then also, there's an increased likelihood of damage to the heart itself.

I had decided years ago that I would forgo the valve surgery, for a host of reasons. For one I just despise hospitals. I would rather live fully out here and drop dead then spend any amount of time in there. Another thing is that I have no desire to be dependent on medications for the rest of my life. But beyond those reasons, I just frankly don't believe we should be going to crazy measures to extend human life. This isn't a belief I would ever impose on anyone else, but it's something I hold to sincerely. We've gone about eradicating all the ways that Mother Nature can control population growth. I was born with a genetic defect--how more clearly could Mother Nature speak? She was gracious enough to allow me to reproduce, but now she's saying, clear out. I designed your body to wear out early, now move along, transform into something else. And I accept that totally.

Knowing that you will die--and I mean knowing it--is an enormous gift. If you know you will die then you can really live. You've got absolutely nothing to lose, so anything becomes possible. There's nothing to fear and nothing to lose, so you can live radically. Shouldn't we all be living that way? Shouldn't we all step out of our little personae and live largely? When you accept your own mortality, then you open up a world of possibilities for how to live. In these times, if more and more of us could get to that point of acceptance, I think we could transform the world. We'd be setting our egos and personae aside and acting from a higher place. We could reshape human culture and help to return the earth to balance.


  1. Melanie,
    Two years ago I had the same choice and I chose the alternative- surgery to replace my aortic valve. I am happy and at peace with that decision. I try to live every day with a feeling of gratitude for the gift that I received, which is the gift of awareness of my own mortality.

    I wish you the best in your choices, but please be aware that the condition is potentially hereditary and may have passed to your son.

    Resisting all urges to lecture. Love, J.

  2. Hi J.

    I already responded once to your comment but it seems to have disappeard into the blogger ether. :(

    I will be getting my son tested and I've informed my parents and all of my siblings that they should be tested as well. Apparently even family members with normal tricuspid valves can have abnormalities in their aortas, so they need to monitor that over time.

    I appreciate your restraint as far as the lecturing goes...I've already been on the receiving end of that from other quarters so I've more than had my fill.

    I'm glad to hear you are enjoying health and happiness. Every day we have is really an enormous gift.

  3. On the massive die-off, from what I have read, it may indeed be possible that the human population of Planet Earth rolls back to a more sustainable 1 to 2 billion people after the fossil fuels have burned out.

    My guess is that, barring apocalyptic events, it takes more the form of "The Long Emergency", which will take generations to shake out. One component will be resource wars, and famines, and disease, and those will certainly be a source of mortality. But another component would be reduced procreation, over time, more than the imminent death of any of us currently here today.

    Crazy to think about.

  4. Captain, I agree it'll be a long emergency, probably happening in waves--droughts here, famines there, inadequate medical care elsewhere, tsunamis, poisoned waters and food, decreased fertility, lowered life expectancies, tornadoes, wars, pandemics, etc. It'll be a massive shakeup, but not some 2012 apocalypse.

  5. I wrote this while we were in Seattle doing hospice with my sister who died of ovarian cancer in March of 2003, the day before I, myself, peed pure blood...rushing back here, a 3 day find that I had bladder cancer.
    The Present is a Foreign Country

    With all that we've been experiencing this year, collectively and individually, I have some thoughts I'd like to communicate.

    A Hopi Elder says about these times:

    "You have been telling the people it is the eleventh hour, now you must go back and tell the people, this is the hour, and there are things to be considered. Where are you going? What are you doing? Are you in right relation? Where is your water? Do you know your garden? It is time to speak your truth. There is a river flowing now, very fast. It is so great and swift, there are those who will be afraid. They will hold on to the shore, and they will suffer greatly. The elders say, 'Push off of the shore into the middle of the river, keep your eyes open and your head above water.' And I say, 'See who is in there with you, and celebrate! For at this time in history your are to take nothing personally, least of all yourselves. For the moment that you do, your spiritual journey has come to a halt. Gather yourselves, banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that you do must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we've been waiting for.' "

    Ivan Illich died on December 2nd, in Bremen, Germany.
    In the last 20 years of his life, he suffered increasingly from a persistent growth on the side of his face, which he never treated, nor had diagnosed. In what was his most provocative and perhaps final comment on the "pursuit of health", Illich wrote: "Yes, we suffer pain, we become ill, we die. But we also hope, laugh, celebrate; we know the joy of caring for one another; often we are healed and we recover by many means. We do not have to pursue the flattening-out of human experience. I invite all to shift their gaze, their thoughts, from worrying about 'health care' to cultivating the art of living. And, today with equal importance, the art of suffering, the art of dying."

    Paper covers rock, rock breaks scissors, scissors cut paper...but fear destroys magic...that has been the celebrated cause of "Civilisation"...parents beating the magic from the child...religious governments and governmental religions instilling fear to cloud the reality that we glimpse periodically when we are quiet by a river in the woods, or celebrating life amongst the dearest of our friends...

  6. Thank you for posting this Bruce. I read it when you posted it on homestead and it spoke right to my heart. I even sent the Ivan Illich quote on to my mom, because it conveyed what I had been feebly trying to express to her for weeks.