It’s one of those questions that gets asked from time to time isn’t it, usually when you’re getting to know somebody and they don’t have anything interesting to say but want to appear deep. It’s like one of those prompts you get at a group assignment but on steroids.
‘What would you do if you knew you were dying in (insert a time)?’
Now that I have been to see that thin red line that sometimes stands between life and death I’m baffled by how incredibly stupid that question is.
The answers are always the same anyway: quit your job, travel the world, do drugs, fulfil every dream that you have.
I’d refuse to answer that question now because when I knew I was dying, the last-minute trip to Italy wasn’t booked, the bungee jump wasn’t jumped and no cocaine-fuelled orgy at a Mexican brothel was organised.
Maybe the difference is in the wording. The question is about finding out you were going to die instead of deciding to die. This scenario doesn’t really cater for suicide does it. The cause of death is nameless and comes from an outside factor.
Still, I’d be prepared to argue that if the person who came up with this question suddenly did find out they were going to die, none of their grand plans would materialise either.
I recently read a news story on a man dying of cancer. One term he used stuck with me, which was ‘the joy of filling the dishwasher.’ Since he had found out that his time on this Earth was limited to a certain number of weeks, instead of rushing out to experience all the things people usually say they want to experience he stopped.
He said he started to find enjoyment in normal everyday activities, such as filling the dishwasher. For the first time in his life he was mindful of the task and what it entailed: placing the dishes the right way round into their correct slots, opening the hatch after the programme has run to let the steam come out and the dishes to cool down before you can touch them, enjoying the fact that you now have all these clean dishes to use.
I could really relate to what he was saying because I noticed the same thing: Instead of time racing when a final line is announced, it slows down. Instead of racing out of the house, you turn inwards.
When you get ill, the milestones are not measured in things purchased, parties attended or contracts signed. You managed to wash your hair. You made a phone call you had worried about for the past week. You managed to go outside for a few minutes.
I no longer want to die but my concept of time has changed. The joy of filling the dishwasher could have been said by me, except that I wash the dishes by hand. I enjoy it immensely. I enjoy tasks where you see the end result of your work straight away, such as vacuuming or having a clear out.
At least four generations of women in my mum’s family worked as cleaners at least at some point in their lives. Maybe my enjoyment of cleaning echoes the sound of their hard haired brushes and the smell of pine sap soap.
Before I got ill, I was always in a hurry. I got easily agitated if things moved too slowly to my liking. I was quick to start snapping my fingers. Come on, come on, let’s go. We haven’t got all day!
Then I got ill and all of a sudden I wasn’t in a hurry anymore. I found out that indeed I had all day.
The first few weeks in hospital I spent mostly awake. The right sleeping pill hadn’t been found yet and my brain would refuse to stay asleep for more than an hour at a time.
You only find out how much time you truly have in a day when you wake up at 3AM, unable to fall asleep again.
Even though I definitely would’ve found a way to die had the insomnia continued, I’ve tried to keep that sense of time I discovered at the hospital when all of a sudden I didn’t have a deadline to meet, a phone call to make or a meeting to attend. In a hospital environment all your usual stimulants are gone. Your focus goes to different things.
Such as the rustle of the birch tree right outside. The feel of the clothes you are wearing against your skin. The smell following a thunder storm when all the buildup of recent days and weeks has exploded in one big climax across the sky.
I no longer want to die, so I’m luckier than the man in the news story. Luckier than the hypothetical poor bastard who gets to hear in a conversation prompt that the end is imminent for an uncertain reason.
I feel like that this concept of time has been given to me, so I shouldn’t go back to the way I was as at least seemingly healthy person.
I don’t mind letting somebody ahead of me in a queue. I’ll get to buy my groceries eventually anyway. If I get stuck in traffic I check online is it because of an accident, so that I can spare a thought to those involved in it. The anger and frustration of fellow commuters seems senseless because it just might be the case that somebody will never be in a hurry ever again.
That’s why I ask an owner if I can pet their dog. I stop to stroke a cat.
I have become slightly obsessed with bath bombs. Bath bombs are the foam art of baths. I love it when a barista makes a leaf or a heart on top of my coffee. It’s like having two treats in one. I thoroughly enjoy bath bombs for the same line of reasoning. The fizzing sound the bomb makes as it plops to the water’s surface is incredibly satisfying. Slowly but surely begin the colourful ripples and start to grow bigger and bigger.
Another incredibly satisfying thing is peeling off that little metal lid that’s on a new tube of toothpaste. I’m sure one day science will come up with a word for that specific feeling as it makes my toes curl up.
The smell when you light a match.
The smell of wet leaves in September.
When you find out that it is illegal to own a single guinea pig in Switzerland as guinea pigs are social animals and owning just one is considered abuse.
Eating something cold and hot at a same time.
The red sky you see right before it snows because it reflects back light.
As I finish writing this post, I notice that my hands glimmer in the light of my bedside lamp. The bath bomb had glitter in it.
My skin is covered with millions of little stars.