Why a Narrow Focus Might Save Your Life

I just watched the movie 50/50 and cried my eyes out. Not only because it was filled with scenes from my hometown and hospitals I’d actually been in, but it reminded me of that really clear, narrow focus that comes with impending death that only death can bring to life. Does that make any sense?

Let me try to frame it better.

I’ve buried my grandmother, my mother, my father, and two of my brothers. It’s really nothing compared to many millions of families who’ve lost everything in the world, but it certainly changes how you relate to life. My brother Leo, who was tragically killed on his bicycle, used to love to tease me about my driving. But it wasn’t so much about my actual driving–shifting too soon, ignoring oil levels, that kind of thing–it was more about the way I approached it. Haphazardly, more interested in the destination than the transportation, and in getting from point A to B as fast as humanly possibly in a 700 dollar car.

And when I pulled in with a smoking beater, having driven 22 hours from San Diego with a melting engine, he’d just smile, crack open a cold beer and get to work. And I’d sit in his shop and we’d hang out, amidst the smell of faded diesel, thick oil, wood and metal shavings, and of course, some just smoked BC bud.

We never had small conversations. 

He let me go to the heart of things, because that is where I lived and he never feared going there in his calm, steady manner, carefully pulling apart the chaos of whatever heartache I’d laid down in front of him like a predictable poker hand, not judging the scattered pieces of my broken heart but rather, calmly valuing each piece and putting it–me–back together.

What happens when the person who fixes your broken heart isn’t alive anymore? I mean, really? Do we ever stop and think about all the people in our lives who support us and really look closely at their value and tell them? Or do we wait until after they’re gone, and realize they left a crater the size of a stadium in your soul?

Death is supposed to be a really good teacher. I try to remember this. I want to love like I’m aware of it, and not like I did before, taking life for granted as though the laughter I hear back after jokes, or the friends who I call for support, my son’s wry lift of his eyebrow, or even the really nice coffee lady I see every morning, will just always be there.

They won’t.

I won’t.

Buddha was all about impermanence  and letting go of attachment and I get it, I do, but I can’t live that way because the ones I’d loved and lost I don’t think I loved well enough when they were around. I think I could have loved more and I think I could have told them so.

Maybe the secret is in that narrow focus, keeping it even when there isn’t the Grim Reaper tap-dancing next to you like the morbid clown he is, but rather, seeing what is essential, paring away all the bullshit that crowds out what is meaningful, important, life sustaining.

Trust me, life doesn’t give a shit if you’re ready for death. So, I say carpe diem the hell out of right now with those you love and get focused on the things that make you sing out loud like  a crazy fool.


Filed under Memoir, Non-fiction

4 responses to “Why a Narrow Focus Might Save Your Life

  1. Amen to that. Sometimes it involves taking huge risks too. Great bit of story telling here. So sorry you have loved and lost so many family members. Irish hug (big one) on its way to you.

  2. Such wisdom, such grief and humour in your words, Mags. I can feel your brother in his garage and you taking in the joy of him and all he was. A great reminder to live now, fully and not to save anything for a better moment or another time. It sounds like your losses have gained you a great view on life. Thanks for this!

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