I recently had a health scare after not feeling well for a few months. The period of waiting between exams, tests, and results brought up a lot of unexpected thoughts and feelings to experience. I was afraid, angry, sad, and confused. The experience was a concrete reminder of mortality and the fragility of the human body. Thankfully, a biopsy came back benign.
Grappling with such strong emotions provided clarity around what is actually important to me. I wasn’t upset about the prospect of losing material items or my career. My mind turned to the wonderful, loving people in my life who expressed so much care and concern for me. We said sweet things to each other that we otherwise may not have expressed. My attention also picked up the vividness of daily life, nature, trees, mountains, and clouds, as if I was seeing the world around me for the first time.
I don’t think physical illness is required to gain perspective on what is important. At more healthy, reflective moments in my life, I have been mindful of mortality, conscious of the fact that one day I will die and today is a gift to use wisely. More often, though, I get swept along in the onrush of daily events, work, and activity. Getting sick was an antidote to that unconsciousness, as though the illness was saying, “Slow down, pay attention, get perspective.”
We all have colleagues, friends, and family who are grappling with illness. When we are supportive and “there” them, we offer the gift of compassion, a shared recognition that we are all fragile, all subject to sickness and ultimately death. Whether it is our own or that of someone we love, illness is an opportunity to focus on what is most meaningful to ourselves and others. And even in times of good health, by remembering our mortality we can express our love to each other now, putting it into words as if there is no time to wait.