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11 December 2005

being alive

good, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

I had to nearly lose my life to write this essay.

In the back of the ambulance, I kept falling out of consciousness. The medic shouted questions at me, to keep me from fading away. “What is your name?” The urgency in his voice cut through the fog.

I didn’t know my name.

I didn’t know much of anything.

I knew that my arms and legs felt useless. At the best trauma hospital in Seattle, the nurses piled on eight or ten emergency blankets. But nothing stopped the trembling at the core of me. Deep under, I heard the urgent confusion in the nurse’s voices—they wondered why they couldn’t warm me up. From a great distance, a thought arose, “I’m dying.” But the thought vanished, along with any fear of it. My mind didn’t have the energy to care.

In December of 2003, two years ago today, my life spun around after being hit by a car. It could have been worse—people who saw the crumpled car were amazed I survived at all. There was a terrifying day in the hospital, deep in shock and feeling close to death. And a year and a half of medical treatments, debilitating pain, and time for reflection.

Ample time for reflection.

After having survived it, and studied up on it, I know that, in deep shock, all the blood rushes from the extremities to protect the inner organs. That’s why my arms felt so foreign at my sides. That’s why my thinking nearly stopped. That’s why I can only remember it now in flashes of disconnected images.

But the studying didn’t ameliorate the feeling. It felt like death. Or, at least, it feels like that’s what death will be like. I feel it deep in my core. And what did it feel like? Utterly anonymous. Everything that was individual, attached to the world, or what I identify as Shauna? It didn’t exist. It slipped away. And it was wonderfully easy.

There was no struggle. No regret. There was no great epiphany, no white light. I was simply fading out.

Everything in our culture says we have to rush, to accomplish, to be better and bigger than everyone else. We don’t know how to slow down. Nothing like a near-death experience to make you stop rushing, and really live, instead.

While I was in bed for months, recuperating incrementally, I did hours of lying-down meditation. And everything I had studied about Buddhism, concepts I believed deeply before—-letting go; loving-kindness; the illusion of a fixed self; that clinging and expectations cause suffering—-were really only ideas before my car accident. Now, they are in my body.

It has been a bigger blessing than I could ever express.

I’m here now, in vivid colors.

But death has been sitting inside me ever since. And in some ways, that has been scary. Difficult to convey. After all, every attempt with words is a failure.

But in other ways, it has been an enormous grace. This presence has meant that I can’t wrap myself in senseless fear or stress. I know that all those trivial details will slip away someday, so why waste my time with them now?

And there’s a comfort of having gone down to the core, knowing that I don’t have to struggle. Or try to control anything.

What if life isn’t about accomplishing anything? What if it’s just about being alive?

I’m so grateful to have this life, as it is: complicated, quirky, and destined to fade away entirely. Because I know, now, what I am. Not words. Not my memories, my to-do list, or my accomplishments. And not my hopes for the future.

I’m not me.

What am I?

Just life. Breath. Consciousness. The ability to hear the din of noise in a room full of people eating, feel the sudden flush of the oven on my face when I open it, smell the fresh-cut ginger rising to greet me, taste the soft lemon-garlic bite of roasted potatoes, or see the craggy Olympic mountains rising high in the pale blue sky from my kitchen window.

A beating heart. An alive mind. This moment.

Right now.

The miraculous fact that we are alive, able to take breath, and take in images of the world, is all that we need to connect us. When we truly understand, in our bodies, that every single being shares this, we have no choice but to love each other.

And this knowledge in my body informs everything I do. I know that if I hadn’t been spun around, turned toward death, I would never have been able to accept having celiac disease with such joy. Eating gluten-free, while sometimes an annoyance, and once in a while a loss, is a joyful freedom in comparison to the terrible headaches and nagging pain I suffered for years. And mostly, after nearly losing it, I know, down to my toes, that I want to say yes to life, instead of no.

And so, today, I said yes. To being alive. Friends gathered at my house for a “Hey, We’re Alive” party. A recognition, and a celebration. The house filled with people, many of whom I didn’t know two years ago, and, if circumstances had been different, would never have met. They started arriving in the morning when the sunlight splashed through the kitchen skylights. Lights from my Christmas tree glittered against the darkened windows by the time the last people left. We laughed and talked and sat on the kitchen counters, dangling our legs in happy unison. And of course, we ate. Minestrone soup. Goat cheese marinade. Lovely Thai concoctions with lime and coconut, wrapped in lettuce leaves. Six different kinds of cheese. Roasted potatoes. Chocolate financiers. Flaxseed chips. Lovely bottles of wine. Lime water. Three-bean salad. Lemon meringues. The sigh of ginger. The happy whisper of people filling a room.

The tastes danced on my tongue. I was surrounded by people I love, and I felt alive.

What more could I need?


At 10:04 PM, Blogger Kimbie said...

That was really wonderful to read, thanks for taking the time to write it and post it. I'm glad you pulled through.

At 10:40 PM, Blogger Nic said...

Beautiful, Shauna. I wish I had something deeper so say, but this just made me smile.

At 6:05 AM, Blogger Ruth Daniels said...

So glad you're here, so glad you have such a wonderful, joyous look on life that you share with us.

Thank you Shauna for so eloquently putting your thoughts into words.

At 9:11 AM, Blogger Molly said...

Shauna, I was--and am--honored to have been a part of the celebration, from your welcome hug to that delicious Cafe Flora goat cheese concoction, those dreamy chocolate financiers, and all your wonderful, warm-spirited friends. Cheers to you, my dear, and to being alive together.

At 10:11 AM, Blogger Colaptes auratus said...

As long as I've visited your blog I've enjoyed your writing and I'm so glad you decided to write about what that time after the accident brought you. Thank you very much.
I'm glad you're still here.

(I made a post - titled "an eternal question" if you're curious about it - pondering similar questions just a few months back. In the post I came to a resting place with the questions similar to yours is some ways, which is interesting to me).

At 3:28 PM, Blogger Sam said...

To think we nearly never 'met' but oh so glad we did, actually. Even though you've been trying to get yer claws into my David! ;P

At 7:00 PM, Blogger Lilly said...

Shauna, this is simply beautiful. Thanks for waking up from the early evenings to put your words out here. They really are inspiring.

Thank you for everything,

At 7:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's about gratitude, I think, Shauna.

Gratitude for every moment of every day, and I've got lots of it this year.

At 7:12 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

a wonderful post as always! I still get so much hope and joy from your blog, now that the CD is officially diagnosed I'm keeping my eye on your wonderful recipes. (unfortunately I haven't found a wheat-free, sugar-free, yeast-free, dairy-free cake yet *snark*).

And I'm so jealous of your David time!!!! :)

At 12:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. I'm so glad that you survived the accident and that you have found so many blessings in it now, in retrospect. Thanks for sharing your insight.

At 7:14 AM, Blogger Farmgirl Susan said...

Wonderful. Thank you for writing this. : )

At 10:46 AM, Blogger Dawn said...

Shauna, I really loved reading this. It makes me want to cry though. Not sure why. I understand what you say and mean, but I wish that I could be in the same state of mind you're in now. I wish I could let go and just be happy and stop trying to control! I don't know when I'll achieve this, but it makes me feel a little better just knowing that I WANT it! Do you have any good books that you would recommend from your studies in Buddhism?

At 5:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

shauna: all i can say is thank you: thank you so much for being you. all of us are out here pulling for you, no matter what happens. i may only be fourteen years old, but i know you are a one woman wonder.

At 8:15 PM, Blogger the chocolate doctor מרת שאקאלאד said...

Thanks Shauna,

I love your work and will be conveying this link to many friends. Please accept my best wishes.


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