“There are no guarantees in life” – who hasn’t heard that phrase, many times, or even said it yourself? It’s pretty much the go-to saying for situations where something tragic or shitty has happened, and there is no other explanation but that. I mean, I’m sure there are others- probably super religious people bring God into it (I have been guilty of this a time or two, not because I am super religious, but because I am a big, faithful believer in God’s perfect plan for us all, no matter how awful things may seem), which probably isn’t very comforting for anyone besides the person saying it. When life deals us, or maybe worse, someone we love, a crippling blow-there is often a desperate feeling of not knowing what to say, or what to do, or how to help, if help is possible. That’s the thing, though- we feel this way because sometimes, there really is nothing. Nothing you can say, do, help, that will be of any use at all. That’s a hard one for us humans.
There is something to that phrase, though- “There are no guarantees in life”. I know most of us don’t dwell on it, but it’s true. Life holds much promise, but makes no promises to anyone. None at all. Sure, there are all kinds of inferred promises we live under the impression of, but they aren’t real. They make us feel safer without actually being of any use at all- sort of like the “Oh Shit!” handle on the passenger side of your car. We make a lot of assumptions from the very start about our lives, and everyone around us encourages this, and does it themselves. We assume we will grow up. We assume we will be teenagers, move out someday, get married and have kids, perhaps. We assume that we will grow old, and that someday, far, far, down the road, we will die. For lots of us, that’s the way it goes. For others, it is not.
By the time I was twenty-two, three kids I personally knew, had died. Being young at that time, those lives lost made an impression on me, but not the way they would have now, if that makes sense. At the age I am now, these deaths would be kids my daughter knows, and it would devastate me. Even as I write a blog about there being no promises in life, I want to say “Parents aren’t supposed to outlive their children!” Knowing as I do that parents outlive their babies every day, it still seems like a rip off of the worst kind. It seems like the most unjust thing, ever. But it’s a chance we take, knowing, God forbid, things happen. We take what life gives us and hope for the best.
It’s sort of a miracle that we can even function in the face of all of this uncertainty, don’ t you think? That we aren’t terrified to go to sleep, let the people we love out of our sight, bother having children at all, knowing what we know…I mean, doesn’t it make you think we must be the most optimistic species out there, that we just go on about our business, cheerful, hopeful, unafraid- when any second could be lights out? Obviously, we don’t go around thinking that way (I don’t- I sure hope you don’t either!) or we’d go nuts, but the fact that we can just tuck it away, in the back of our minds, and not let it bother us much…that is amazing! I have certainly had moments, and even short phases in my life, where I was struck to the core by existential dread. I think we all go through it, here and there. It is sure as hell no fun in that bleak head space, when you aren’t sure what you are, can’t vouch for what you’re actually made of, and all your faith in what happens after we die has disappeared, leaving you frozen with fear of the unknown. “I want out!” I remember thinking to myself, in the grips of one of these little bouts. “Out, where?” I recall thinking immediately after, “It’s too late- the minute you are born, you are trapped on this ride, and the only thing worse than being trapped on is being let off.” Naturally, this thought did nothing for my panic, and I was forced to spend the rest of the night (isn’t it always late at night when this particular fear strikes?) practicing deep breathing into my pillow. With the light of day, the fear diminished, silly looking when I wasn’t so alone.
You may be wondering by now what the hell got into me, to make me write this. I’m sure it’s not one of my more hilarious reads. Well, it’s like this- as some of you guys know, I am a medical coder at a hospital. I won’t bore you with the full description of my job, but I do NOT do actual patient care. I work in the Health Information Management department, which you probably know as the medical records department. I spend all day, every day, reading charts for emergency room patients, then pulling from those charts the diagnoses so that the people in the billing department know what happened and how much to charge. 99% of the time, the charts I see are for people who come in, get some help, then go home. Anything more serious, and the patients are admitted, which means someone else codes their charts. So most of the time, it’s simple, average stuff.
But sometimes people die. When it’s old people, it’s sad, and I don’t feel great about it, but at least, usually, it was quick, and they had a long life. When it’s younger people, though, that is hard on me. Many times I have cried over a chart I was coding- not all of them deaths, either. There are terrible things that happen besides death-leukemia in a seven year old, metastatic cancer in a patient who thought they’d beat their disease. Burns on little babies…you name it. But the kids in their twenties who don’t make it, that kills me. The people my age who just drop dead- that scares the crap out of me. It’s not too uncommon either. Since I’ve worked in this field, I’ve had to see a lot of things I could have avoided, otherwise. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not, to be so aware of our frailty.
Then yesterday, on Facebook, I see that my friends boyfriend has passed away. Like, out of the clear blue sky, gone. She is someone I have known a long time, but not well enough to know anything other than that he died, and that he was our age, and that I can do nothing but offer my condolences. Pray. Another dose of reality, like a palm to the face, urging me to snap out of it! This is it, man, THIS moment, right now. This is really all you’ve got, because the next one isn’t promised. Do whatever you can to make this one shine. There are no guarantees in life, you know.