"Weren't you supposed to be dead seven years ago?"
An awkward question to be posed in a busy restaurant, but not uncommon for me. I am often asked about my life expectancy and what my future prospects look like. A few evenings ago, my husband and I were having dinner with some friends of ours. My birthday is coming up and I am working toward another pancreas transplant so to be discussing my age and how much longer I have didn't come out of nowhere.
As we discussed the topic of life and death, we also talked about age, and at what age each of us struggled. The appropriate age to have a baby and the death of that dream via hysterectomy for my friend at age 36. The depression that accompanied leaving our twenties to embark on "middle age" for my friend's husband. The grief and unimaginable horror of burying a child that has touched friends and family in our little desert town. Sounds like great dinner conversation, right?
Well actually, it was. I realized during our heart-to-heart with our friends that we have assigned the moments of our lives completely arbitrary numbers to indicate happiness or tragedy.
My Father was 43 years old when he died. That is only a few years older than I am now. At seventeen, I felt his life was cut tragically short because he was gone from mine. Now at the same age he was, the tragedy was that I didn't take advantage of every moment of the seventeen years I had with him. For him, he was only required to live in this 'veil of tears' for a few decades.
There was a young man who recently passed away at the age of 25. His parents would tell you he was far too young. As a parent, I would agree. What about the 16 year old who drowned, or the 12 year old girl who was in too much pain to think it worth living. What about the 13 year old girl who finds herself in the "twilight" of her life because of cancer?
What is the significance of all these numbers? What really is middle age, or mid-life? We think its a number where we are closer to death than we are to youth, but that isn't true. For my father mid-life was 22, for some others its 12, or 8, or 15. What is the importance of these random digits except to count the time in our lives up on the earth.
My Daddy taught me the concept of eternity when I was a little girl. He was a brilliant mathematician, who when I asked him how to count to forever showed me.
He said: "You are the number 0. How long you will exist, love, dream, and be my little girl is the highest number you can count to."
I, of course, tried to think of the biggest number my immature brain could fathom. "How about a million, zillion, google Daddy?"
"How about a million, zillion, google plus one." he would say.
When I asked him How he knew I had lived before I lived with him he used the same analogy: "If you are the number 0, then what is the lowest number to show you when you started to exist."
I thought of the million, zillion, google only as a negative number. I knew better than to guess it though. He would simply subtract one from the end.
While premature death or death at all feels like a tragedy to us, the mother of the 16 year old who drowned taught me the truth about our little counting system.
"If we have no beginning and no end, then our miniscule travels on earth are simply a moment in forever. A moment we stretch out and try to turn into an eternity. Our time apart is painful because of all the moments we've spent together. They are only numbers because of all the eternity we will never have to be apart."
As I age one more year and look back to when Erik and I got married, I feel blessed to have seven more years with him than was predicted. My sweet, visionary husband knew we would have only a handful of years together, but he saw our eternity as a far greater number. When I asked him all those years ago if he was sure he wanted to go through death with me, he responded.
"I would rather love you for whatever time I can get right now, than give up loving you at all because there isn't enough time left."
So as I turn over another year in my life, I'm not going to count it. I'm just going to love that I am here for this moment. I'm just going to bask in the moments that make up eternity both before I started counting and long after I will quit.