Reporting from inside my overactive imagination…
“He doesn’t have much longer,” I heard the doctor whisper to my wife outside the room. “Anyone who wants to say goodbye should do it now.”
My eyes were closed. The blanket draped over my limp body was coarse and scratchy but I left it alone to be with my thoughts. I was reflecting on all the things I’d done and left undone. I thought about how stupid I was as a kid. And all the stupid kids I hung out with.
I thought about the time we threw water balloons at the bicyclers on the bike path. And I thought about that red-faced guy who chased us down, screaming and growling like a wild ape. I remembered how I caught a glimpse of the big huge veins bulging out of his neck and got scared he was going to kill us and ran faster. And I thought about how we probably deserved to get caught but we all got away anyway because we knew about that old clothesline in Mrs. Robinson’s yard and he didn’t see it coming.
I thought about the fishing wire. Oh, lord! The fishing wire! What a little bastard I was. And then I thought about the first time I was put into handcuffs and that other time I threw a pizza box in that old guy’s car in the Target parking lot and scared the crap out of him. Gosh. Maybe even literally.
Now, in what seemed like a flash, I was that old guy, complaining and carrying on about those idiot degenerate kids and their damn pizza boxes and worrying about my own somewhat incontinent bowels and wondering what the hell the world is coming to. Wow. Time flies.
And then I thought about how I finally grew up and got a little wiser. I started writing all the time, consumed by books and big ideas and grand visions of a better future. And I thought about how some of those visions eventually came true and the parts that came true were good and true enough for me.
I listened as people slowly filled the room. They didn’t say anything. Just a few scattered sniffles and whimpers. I could tell exactly who was doing the sniffling and whimpering and where they were standing. I started to smile at the thought of how pitiful they must’ve looked. But before I could let myself enjoy a cackle or two I got self-conscious of how terrible I must’ve looked. Like a weak bag of bones. Like a rotting, dying old man. That newfangled breathing machine must’ve been a sight to behold for the little ones. It scared me, too.
I noticed how strained my breath sounded. My mouth was dry and tasted of copper. The hospital room smelled clean and sterile, but there was an intuitive stench of decay. I wondered if anyone else could smell it. Maybe it was just me. What if only the dying smell it, I thought. Maybe this is what it always smells like when Death comes to take what’s finally his.
I couldn’t face them. I couldn’t open my eyes. Not yet. I wanted to reflect just a little more before I looked. I hadn’t even gotten to the good stuff. To when I met my wife and we built the house and I fell into the lake and got my leg wrapped on the rope and the dog jumped in and saved my life and instead of helping they all got it on camera from every angle and watched it and laughed until they cried about once every couple of weeks, at least.
They were so young then. We all were.
I didn’t want to be reminded of how old everyone has gotten. Because then it would remind me of just how old and ugly I’ve gotten. And I knew when I caught their eyes I would see for sure that they knew. And they would all know for sure I knew, too. And we would all know we’ve all known for quite a while but just let it be until it was time.
And it was almost time. And when I looked, when I opened my eyes, it would all be good as over.
Just let them let me be, I thought. Let them whimper a little more. Not much time left, I know. But just another minute won’t hurt.
“Is he… alive?” the littlest one asked, breaking the silence.
I smiled and this time I did let out a cackle. And then we all laughed.
“I’m still here,” I said without opening my eyes.
“I’m still here,” I said again a moment later, my voice fading.
The room fell silent again. And I did a little more reflecting. And they all just stood there and sniffled and listened to me breathe and waited patiently. Until I was ready.
The Deathbed Test
What you just read was a scene from my “vision” of what it will be like on my deathbed.
Sounds insane, I know. But hear me out.
I’ve been reading Bryan Ward’s “black paper” called, LIT: How to Get Your Soul Back.
Bryan, if you’re not familiar, writes the Third Way Man blog. He’s a powerful writer and his beat is helping men find their true creative callings without sacrificing their souls or their power.
In his black paper, he suggests a technique he calls “The Deathbed Test.”
The concept, he says, is “to graphically and deeply place yourself in the position of your last breath and use that as a searing search and vetting tool to truly separate the noise from the signal, to establish the ‘true north’ of your craft.”
Here’s how you do it…
Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for five to ten minutes. Close your eyes and calm your mind.
[To calm your mind easily and effectively, simply take ten deep breaths. Take a deep inhale then exhale for twice as long as your inhale. Repeat.]
Once your mind is calm, begin to imagine yourself on your deathbed. You have only hours, nay, minutes, to live. Immerse yourself completely. Sights. Sounds. Smells. Textures. The whole shebang.
Let it come to you.
“Take the time to really imagine it,” says Ward. “Make it as real as possible. Imagine the feel of the stiff sheets, the hospital smell, the sound of your family nervously sniffing and swallowing, crying, surrounding you. Imagine the feel of your wife’s hand as she holds yours to comfort you. Imagine the click and beep of ventilators and hospital equipment. Imagine the weakness and frailty of old age consuming your body, your strength gone, each breath a mountain climb.”
Can you imagine it? Can you see the memories running through your mind? Can you feel that twinge of regret yet? Once you do, grab onto that feeling by the neck and follow it deeper down.
“Now,” says Bryan, “before the poignancy fades, ask yourself this: Assuming that you have not done any great creative work between now and the imagined deathbed moment, what of the things you have NOT done fills you with the most pain, regret, and anguish? What is the thing you thought you would have time to do someday but have not, in fact, done? Which of those unchecked items on your life’s to do list absolutely guts you to the core?
“Stay with the pain and narrow it down to the top 3 to 5 things.
“Good. Now write it down. Write down the one thing left undone that pains you the most.”
Your most profound and pressing call
The key, he says, is not to get too meta about it. Don’t think about how your “one thing” might change as you evolve. You want to define what you know NOW, wherever you’re at in your journey, to be your most profound and pressing call.
Do it. Even if you do it badly, do it. Even if just for a minute.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step — the key is to know what direction that first step should be in so that you have the clarity and the stark simple compulsion to take it. You will always be able to meander and modify that direction as you move forward. But without forward movement you do not have the ability to even get to these inflection and modification points in the first place.”
It’s a powerful, powerful exercise. One you have to experience all the way through to understand just how powerful. I encourage you to take The Deathbed Test today.
And then go wherever it takes you.
Onward and upward,
Managing editor, Laissez Faire Today
P.S. Have something to say? Say it! Chris@lfb.org.
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