It’s been longer than usual since I’ve posted here. Scattered thoughts have left me with empty pages. But still, I’ve been consuming words. I have been reading one of the most profound books I’ve ever discovered. When Breath Becomes Air is a cruel and candid novel, which is equal parts jarring and poetic. I’ve been listening to the audio version in my car, on my morning commute. And as I digest its depth and meaning, I feel mortal, weightless, as if a slight shift of wind could send me off course.
The truth is, we are all a wind-shift away from being moved, and from having our lives derailed.
No spoilers here — I’ll just give you the book’s bare bones so you can read for yourself if you’d like. The author takes us on a journey, wherein he grapples with a severe lung cancer diagnosis and struggles to find a new normal as the life he once knew is obliterated. Like a lovely piece of pottery that abruptly hits the floor, his life becomes jagged pieces. He was 36, married and hoping to have children, finishing residency as a successful neurosurgeon. As I listened to the story, I imagined him peeling from his skin the smooth latex surgical gloves he wore to probe gray matter, extract tumors and save lives. I envisioned him slipping the same limbs into a hospital gown, the doctor becoming a patient in a peculiar twist of fate.
Life is strange. All roses wither, I thought. Their plump red faces bend, shrivel and fade.
I remembered the phrase, life is a gift, and that sometimes we don’t get what we want or expect. To fight with that fact would be foolish. So acceptance is freeing.
If this post feels dark, forgive me. My intention was to shed light on the dim, not merely to point to it. So here’s my attempt.
As I listened to the last chapters of the book, a single word fluttered in my mind: layers. I thought about life and loss, and how death and circumstances bring people in and out of the world– in and out of our lives. In my own life, new jobs, neighborhoods, and adventures have brought new relationships. Some were enriching. Others were merely educational. Three years ago, I didn’t know my amazing partner. But today I can’t imagine not knowing him, not sitting with him on the sofa, sharing a bag of chocolate almonds in front of the television.
Everyone we meet adds a layer to our lives. For better or worse, they change us. And because none of us has complete knowledge, everyone brings value. Truth is sprinkled among humanity, and a bit of it exists in each of us. We are individual sparks that together make a collective flame.
Although I cried hot, fast tears at the end of the book, I also felt energized and enlightened. I got on my mat, drew a long, full breath and thanked the enigmatic universe for every intricate layer… and the fact that I too have layered so many lives.
Mantra: Time and circumstances can change any moment. Don’t hurt or evaluate anyone in life. ~ Buddha