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Perspective: Expressing Inexpressible Experience

[Click here and I'll let you know when I publish future posts.]

Health brings a freedom very few realize until they no longer have it.

The Guardian article linked above reminds me of different times. I've not always had good health and in fact, I've been confined to scarcely more than a bed or couch for months at a time.

The x-ray below was taken on my 22nd birthday as I awaited surgery on my left lung for a second time. It shows a 15% collapsed lung. To add a little context, I had been in bed unconvinced but hoping it would heal for two weeks. This x-ray was a turning point--the moment I realized I would have surgery again. I spent the next four weeks obsessively researching from my breakfast-in-bed style table.

X-ray showing a 15% pneumothorax on the left side. The metal plate and screws were from a severe longboarding accident earlier that year.

Three years prior, almost to the day, I laid awake in a hospital bed on the eve of my first surgery ever. Through the visceral haze of my roommate's light pollution and the echo of the doc's warnings about lung surgery, a simple melody began to repeat in my head.

I couldn't remember the words that accompanied but it repeated anyway, and I didn't try to hard to figure it out. After a couple of hours drifting in and out of sleep--melody on repeat all the while--I woke up to the music in full technicolor, lyrics and all, playing in my head.

I don't know why or how that song came to mind since the lyrics only came after several hours, and though I could hear the grand orchestra in my mind, I had never been more calm. Neither have I been so since...in fact, it wasn't calm. It was something else, but I don't think we have a name for it.

"If I die tomorrow
  I'd be alright
  Because I believe
  That after we're gone
  The spirit carries on."

Morbid? Mellow-dramatic? Sad? I don't think so, actually. I don't even know what those lyrics mean to me. And I'm not really religious.

Months later, I found myself sitting in joint-graduate level philosophy class with 10 other students. The professor posed the question, "Can you know how you'd deal with death were you to come face to face with it?"

I've sat here for a few minutes now as I write this, trying to figure out how to describe my reaction. I couldn't express it then, and I'm still not sure how. Mostly, it struck me as a bizarre question to ask.

The closest I can get to how I felt is: I wish everyone had the opportunity at a near-death experience in their youth. I've been blessed with a few.

They're difficult to talk about, but not because they're morbid, mellow-dramatic, or sad. They're difficult to talk about because we don't actually have words in the English language to describe what it's like.

The Guardian article that I linked above had a strong impact on me, I think, because the top regret of people on their death bed is the closest I think the English language gets to describing it. It's still a long ways off though.

1. "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."

This reminds me of that "calm" I experienced, but it's translated so far into the language of the everyday hustle and bustle that it just barely does so. Regret isn't even close to the right word. Regret has nothing to do with anything, from my perspective. In actuality, it's more of a ______________. That actually feels the closest I can get to expressing it. Maybe we don't have words to express it because language relies on common experiences that make it intelligible to others...and this is not a common experience. Well, until it's too late, that is.

But the point is that I'm not sure what it means to be true to yourself, Rorty and all that aside. I keep wanting to say things that retrospectively sound Buddhist, but I'm not writing them down because I don't like how they sound.

I think the two most operative concepts for me in that quote are courage and expectations.

The heart of courage seems to be in defying expectations. 

[Click here and I'll let you know when I publish future posts.]

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