Stories That We Tell Ourselves

Very recently a medical development of a close friend of mine jolted me out of apathy. Within the course of a month, “these damn headaches” had turned to “carcinomic metastases in the brain”.

Overnight after that exchange, I woke up alive.  Opening my eyes without dreading prognosis, diagnosis and mortality filled my very being with melting intensity. The whole world had till now seemed to unjustly pamper me.

Till yesterday I was counting on what I had. Today I was celebrating what I did not have. In this state of delirium, I continue drinking in every sense’s detail with a blind man’s appreciation of new sight.

My friend had been planning a road trip across India towards the end of the year (and I am sure as hell rooting for him on being able to do it) but plans changed. Quite a bit I suspect. In his process of loss I gained perspective.

That small pile of dollars I was scrounging for rainy days lost its reassuring shine. The uncertainty of next week’s revolving meetings lost its immediacy. With these shifts in perceptions, contrary to what I thought, I loosened up and got work done easily. I realized, for a brief period of time that I was in the zone. Hurtling tasks and decisions slowed down to a snail’s pace so that I could tackle them with startling clarity and confidence. My very existence was euphoric.

What changed? The Story.

I picked up Paul Kalanithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air” because till then I had nowhere I could position myself mentally to read such an emotional book. I finished the book in one sitting, something that I could not do with Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “The Emperor of All Maladies“. Mukherjee had time on his and therefore wrote a long book. Kalanithi died halfway through.

Kalanithi was forced to extract meaning out of life. To live every moment of his remaining life with complete awareness, picking and choosing from myriad decisions and to dwell on thoughts that only matter to him, a sped-up Thích Nhat Hạnh.

Today, I can smell drying cement on the pavement, hear the crunch of tires on tar and even feel the rhythm at the crosswalk stop light.

Today I live.


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