When Time Slips Away from You Hold Tight to Emotion Instead

“We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts not breaths; in feelings, not in figures on a dial. We should count time by heart throbs.”

— Philip James Bailey, “Festus”

I am one of those people gifted with an acute awareness of my mortality and a near constant anxiety over the amount of time I have left. There is nothing wrong with me—that I know of. I have no reason to think I won’t live to a miserable old age. I have no reason to be so afraid and yet; I suffer from terrible death anxiety. I lay awake most nights staring at the ceiling contemplating what death means and what it means to be a being that will die. The thoughts have begun to seep into the the daytime, stopping me in my tracks and bringing tears to my eyes. I’m obsessed, in the worst way. I’m scared, and I’m angry too, and I don’t know how to stop thinking about the end so that I can finally live.

I want to stop seeing all this time flying by and start seeing all the life I have in and around me instead. I want to be free, but I don’t understand how I can when my life seems so small and death, even if it comes 50 years from now, feels close enough to raise the hairs on the back of my neck. How is everyone else doing it?

When I reach out to tell people how I am feeling and get a little advice and reassurance I get the most puzzling looks and responses. No one seems to be crushed under inevitability the way that I am. No one else seems to be lying awake at night with their heart pounding in their ears wondering when the end might find them and how. No one worries how long it will take to be forgotten by the world and no one is devastated by the unfairness of it all. I don’t understand why I feel time slipping through my hands so painfully and no one else does.

I know I need help, but it’s hard to admit I am so weak and strange. I suppose I believe I’m somewhat beyond help or that there is no help I can be given by another person that I can’t give myself.

Still, I long to talk to people who suffer the way I do. I want to know I am not alone. I want someone to understand that to me the rest of humanity must be walking around blind to be so calm. There has to be someone out there who understand that this life feels like nothing but a death march to me.

I’ve tried to live mindfully, aware of every minute I am alive but I think I only got half the picture and that is why I suffer so now. When I became aware of time passing this way, I wanted to hold onto it, but no matter how hard I tried every moment they keep slipping, slipping, slipping, wasted and irretrievable out of my reach. And that is all I can see of my life now. All I see is how I am always dying. All I see is that I can never go back. I live in near constant panic over all the choices I have left to make, and the ones I won’t get to make before it all goes dark. I am furious over all the life I won’t get to live as the eons pass without me.

Becoming aware of every moment means becoming aware of how few moments there will be. Seeing what you have doesn’t stop you from wishing for what you can’t. Taking control of your life doesn’t stop you from seeing what you can never control. Living doesn’t stop you from dying one day.

So, I guess I need a new perspective. I need to find out what it is I am missing that everyone else has grasped.

I’ve been thinking to myself, rationalizing and trying to make sense of my fear of dying, of leaving my work unfinished, of one day not being, and of being forgotten. I try to remind myself that I have time and that even if I didn’t, even if the end came for me this very moment, I have had a good life. Not the best life, not exactly the life I planned, but a life most people in the world only dream of. I have been loved, and I have been happy more often than not, and maybe that is the answer to my problem.

Maybe instead of looking at what I won’t have, I need to focus on what I could have. Maybe I measure time all wrong, and that is why there seems to be so little of it left. Maybe, for humans, time is best measured in memorable moments, and emotion invoked.

So, what if I stopped counting all those seconds? Most of them were empty anyway and, if I’m honest, I hardly remember them once they are gone. Maybe a richer life isn’t found by hoarding time but in bringing time to life? The seconds that matter are the ones full of wanting and connection, of passion and curiosity, of novelty. I need to stop trying to hold on to every moment, trying to freeze myself and everything I love in place as if I could stay any longer by doing so. I need to move and make things happen.

After all, the only time I am not worrying about when my heart would stop beating is when it was beating out of love, or fear, or excitement. The only time I am not worrying about how much time I have left is when my time is filled up doing something new, fun, or fulfilling. I’ve become stagnant, tightened and tied up, I need to be loose, to laugh more, to let go!

If death is to come either way, if time is going to slip away no matter how tight my grip, I suppose it all ought to make it worth every second. My heart ought to come alive whenever possible. I should be learning, doing, loving, yearning, every day. I have to cling to the right things and measure time in laughter, kisses, candies, fears, and triumphs. I need more good books, good friends, new experiences, and new ways of living.

I don’t even think I need to make any huge changes in my life. I have plenty of love and laughter around me I only need to take the time to notice it and muster the courage to participate in it. In the moments where it doesn’t exist, I can certainly create it and make other lives as rich as they make mine. Even when I am alone, I can at least love myself. I can learn to enjoy my own company and make even the most mundane activities into a joy simply by being grateful and noticing the miracle that my life is.

I have only so much control over the length of my life, but the width and weight of it are up to me. I can have more life by measuring it by heart throbs rather than the ticking of a clock.

***

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Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

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Margaret Atwood on Existing in Two Places

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes daily practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from the Canadian poet and novelist, Margaret Atwood.

mg_5527Margaret Eleanor Atwood was born on November 18, 1939, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Because of her father’s work and research in forest entomology, Atwood spent much of her childhood in the backwoods of northern Quebec and traveling back and forth between Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie, and Toronto. She did not attend school full-time until she was eight years old.

Atwood began writing plays and poems at the age of six and realized she wanted to write professionally by the time she was 16.

In 1957, she began studying at Victoria College in the University of Toronto, where she published poems and articles in Acta Victoriana, the college literary journal. She graduated in 1961 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in philosophy and French.

She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000.

She has also published fifteen books of poetry. Many of her poems have been inspired by myths and fairy tales, which have been interests of hers from an early age. She has also published four collections of stories and three collections of unclassifiable short prose works.

Atwood is also the inventor, and developer, of the LongPen and associated technologies that facilitate the remote robotic writing of documents.

She is a noted humanist, and, in 1987, she was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association.

“I exist in two places,
here and where you are.”

— Margaret Atwood

This week I’m thinking a lot about Atwood and her book The Handmaid’s Tale. Of course, because today her book becomes a show, and I’m pretty stoked about that since I recently read it, but I’ve also been thinking about time. I’ve been thinking about what it means to be the writer and the reader, and for time to pass between both. I’ve been wondering what it means for me to exist as I am now, and for me to exist again with you when you read these words. I wonder in what forms I will exist when I am read after I am long gone?

I know that I am a human and I know that all humans are mortal and still my own death seems impossible to me. How can there ever come a time when I will not breathe, or think, or write, or love, or look to the sky and feel small, and here, and so myself and so a part of everything that exists? How can there come a time when my heart stops and with it the thoughts in my head while the world goes on spinning and humans go one warring, inventing, and evolving, doing things I will never witness or be a part of?

This makes no sense, and yet it is a certainty, and it hurts me so every time I remember it.

I am afraid, I admit, not to be anymore. I want to face the fact, but I also want to keep it out of my mind. Why let the inevitable distract me and keep me frozen? Then again, the fear can be a motivating and focusing force until my end comes. If I want to live on after my death, I must remember that I am going to die and use what I have to limit my fading into the nothingness.

When I read the works of other writers they come into me, into my time and place, or some form of them does anyway, and I am happy to give them life again. I suppose I want a bit of that too. I want to know what it feels like to exist again and again and yet still be me, growing and changing here and now.

I want to live in every person and in every time after this one and words are the only way to do that.. It is a selfish thing to want, but I can’t help wanting it either. I am afraid of not being.

I am angry too. To be limited to this body, to this mind, and to this time feels so petty and unfair. One day there may be better ways to circumvent these pesky limitations, but for now, all I have are words. I have the imperfect ability to write down who I am and the improbable hope that in the future, minutes or eons from now, you will read them and remember me.

But who will it be that you remember? By the time this goes out I will be a little different, and the longer the distance between now and then the more the difference between the Lisa that wrote this and the Lisa that exists. So, I suppose no part of me will live on really, only bits of who I was. Only a snapshot in my history. Still, it’s all I have, and I am happy to give it to you.

Because even though I am not that Lisa anymore that does not mean she cannot be of some use. She can be a friend, a comfort, and warning, or a dream for you. She can walk with you when you feel alone, same as she walks within me. She can exist far longer than I. She can travel through space and time and be what I cannot.

And because the Lisa I am now is jealous of where that past me is able to go and where she is able to be, I will send this out and immediately sit sown to write again. I will send myself out to you over and over again, and one day, if all my works, everything from my little notes and journal entries, to the stories I’ve endeavored to tell here, and the books I may one day write, were to be put together it would be the closest a person could come to time travel. To real, complete, existence in another place and time.

I hope it happens for me one day, and that something like magic will allow me to feel what it is like to be here and there, now and then, and me, with you.

exist1_sq.png

***

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Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

See also: Margaret Atwood on Writing Poetry

Featured image via Unsplash

I Hope I Die Before You

When you are young, and you say you will love someone forever, you have no idea what that means.

You never imagine that this beautiful fairy tale could ever end. Nothing could sever such a rare connection. You know, somewhere in the back of your mind, that people die, that people you love will die, and so will you, but your brain somersaults around logic, and you believe the rule does not apply to you, let alone the one you love. Love transcends all. Love makes all things possible.

So, with forever to look forward to, you build a home, you make a family, you share bank accounts. You fight, and you forget each other because you have all the time in the world. You never stop to consider the pain one of you will feel when one of you will leave this world and the other behind. You realize what you’ve wasted only after it’s too late.

After 31 years on this planet, and 14 years with the girl of my dreams, it is sinking in, one day one of us will be alone. Forever isn’t quite forever, not the way I thought. Life seems so much shorter than it used to and even if I got 100 more years with her it wouldn’t feel like enough.

***

I am scared.

I often dream that I am roaming from room to room in our home calling her name and searching, but I can’t find her anywhere. Sometimes I dream that I am in choking and sobbing telling her story at her funeral. Sometimes I am calling to her from some kind of white afterlife where I am alone and afraid, but she can’t hear me. Sometimes I hear her calling to me, but I cannot get to her.

I suppose my mind is playing out a trauma I might one day experience. Somewhere inside I am working through what I think it will feel like to be torn from her.

I talk to her about my fears of course, because talking to her is the only way I know how to work things out in my mind. I tell her that I can’t stop worrying about her and that my heart hurts when I think about one of us dying before the other. She tells me not to worry about it. She tells me she will be fine. She tells me we have plenty of time before we need to worry.

I tell her she doesn’t know that.

***

I become obsessed, trying to work through what will happen to each of us when the other is gone.

I tell her that if I die she has to go live with someone, preferably with family. I know her, she is very private and will try to cope alone. Someone will have to make sure to gets enough sleep, eats enough food and doesn’t work too hard. Someone will have to do all the things I do for her now. Someone will have to stand up to her for her own good, but I don’t know anyone who can.

I tell her that if anything ever happened to me, I want her to date again and find someone who will love her and take care of her when she is ready. She says the same back to me. I feel relieved. At least neither of us will have to worry that the other wouldn’t approve.

I tell her that I am afraid if she dies first my heart and mind won’t be able to handle it. There is no way I will be able to stay in our home, or throw away her things, or go back to the job where we both have worked for so many years.

I am certain I will lose my mind. I am certain I will self-destruct in one way or another. I will be desperate to find her in the place we all go when we aren’t here anymore. I will be desperate to escape. I know I will not recover.

She tells me again and again, we have time, we are okay, she is okay, everything is okay.

I only become more anxious.

***

We bury the pain that comes with facing mortality in jokes that aren’t jokes at all.

We laugh about double suicides and imagine ways we might die together. What will happen to the house and the animals if we are both in a car accident, a plane crash, an earthquake, a bombing, anything! Dying together is the best case scenario, and these are our secret hopes.

One life without the other makes no sense. How could the world will go on spinning? How could people keep doing what they have always done? How can we wake up again in bed alone? This is impossible. This is insulting.

Laying in the bed, both of us staring at the ceiling through the dark she squeezes my hand and tells me this is how she would like to die.

It is sweet.

***

More and more often these thoughts come to me, and when I look at her, I want to cry.

She is so beautiful and so strong. She has shown me so much love and made my life something truly good. I am sad that such beautiful and rare things have to end. I am angry there is no way out or around the inevitable. I am angry she would be yanked from this world, and me, the one who loves her best.I am angry that I must go too. I don’t want to leave her lost and alone in this world.

I tell her I hope I die before her.

She doesn’t know what to say anymore.

I wonder if I am crazy. I wonder if I am the only one trying to cope with the future. She never seems to be as scared, but I do notice that, from time to time, she clings to me at night too after dreaming I was lost to her. She lays on my chest and cries because it felt too real. I pat her back and try to soothe her, but I don’t know how.

I say the only thing I can.

I tell her I am here, I am fine, and we have so much time before we have to worry about anything like that.

***

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Featured image you me

Sleep Paralysis(?)

What horror is this?

Are you are awake?
   (maybe)
Are you sleeping still?
   (not likely)
Is this hell?
   (Oh my God)

Your mind is sharp
but your body,
it seems to have lost touch
   try to move
   try to see
   try to scream
      (all in vain)

Your chest
pressed tight
   your heart
   beats rapidly
      your eyes
      fixed shut

You focus in your terror
   (Is something in here with you?)
You strain to make sense of it
   (Is something breathing against you?)
You remember the old stories
   (Are the demons truly real?)
There is no doubt
   (You must be dead!)

Suddenly!
With a gasp!
Mind and body reconnect,
   you sit up
   you see nothing
   you laugh
   you are fine
It was only,
after all,
a bit of sleep paralysis!

   (Or was it?)

*************

Written in response to Blogging U. course Writing 101: A Poem a Day assignment, Sleep.

Featured image: The Nightmare by John Henry Fuseli

The Nightmare The early meaning of “nightmare” included the sleeper’s experience of weight on the chest combined with sleep paralysis, dyspnea, or a feeling of dread. The painting incorporates a variety of imagery associated with these ideas, depicting a mare’s head and a demon crouched atop the woman.

 

Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Reginald Shepherd

Hello and happy Wednesday day to you all! Congratulations on making it to the halfway point, it’s all downhill from here. To help you get through the rest of the way I encourage you to check out Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen at Silver Threading. Each Wednesday bloggers showcase their favorite quotes to inspire and motivate us to keep on writing.

My contribution for this week is from the late poet Reginald Shepherd.

Born in New York City in 1963 Reginald grew up in the Bronx. He earned a BA from Bennington College and studied at Brown University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. In his last year at the University of Iowa, he received the “Discovery” prize from the 92nd Street Y, and his first collection, Some Are Drowning

He was the author of five volumes of poetry—Some are Drowning; Angel, Interrupted; Wrong; Otherhood; and Fata Morgana—and a volume of essays, Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry.

He edited two anthologies, The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries and Lyric Postmodernisms: An Anthology of Contemporary Innovative Poetries.

His work has also been widely anthologized, including in four editions of The Best American Poetry and two Pushcart Prize anthologies.

The poet Marilyn Hacker has described Shepherd as:

“brilliant and elegiac … a writer always conscious of the shadowy borders where myth and history—his own and Western civilization’s—mingle. Those borders, classical and contemporary, are the true location of Shepherd’s poems, and his newest work crosses and recrosses them, excavates their sites, finds the evidence of the poem at every stratum.”

His honors and awards include grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, the Florida Arts Council, and the Guggenheim Foundation. His 2008 book of essays, Orpheus in the Bronx, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism.

Shepherd died, after a long and painful battle with cancer, on September 10, 2008.

He kept a blog the last couple of years of his life.

“I write because I want to live forever. The fact of my future death offends me.”

— Reginald Shepherd

There are many reasons why I write. In the front of my my mind I write to share my story, I write to inspire others to think, and I write to make a small positive change in the world. Deep down though, I think the real reason I write, the real reason any of us write, is in protest against the inevitability of our impending deaths.

I think about death a lot. I believe it builds character to face your mortality on a regular basis. Despite this I haven’t exactly accepted my fate. I cannot get past the anger and frustration of the unfairness of death. There is so much more I want to see and do but I won’t, I will be dead. The best I can hope for, the best any of us can hope for is, to make some kind of imprint on history.

We want to leave behind evidence that we were here.

I think writing is the best way to accomplish this. If your words can survive then so can you, in a way. It’s the only way you can live on and continue to interact and change the world long after you are gone. The trick is to write something that other people will want to keep alive. You have to write something that will awaken and excite the minds of people who will live decades after your death.

It’s easier said then done, but that is why writing is something we all have to do day in and day out.

It is your life’s work.

Quote found via The Academy of American Poets Facebook Page

Original image via Flickr

A Few Thoughts on the Death Penalty

It’s been a hard week here in Aurora, Colorado. Last week the defendant in the Theater Shooting trail was found guilty on all 165 counts against him. I watched the entire live feed as the judge read each verdict. It took about an hour and the defendant never reacted once.

Tomorrow they jury will begin hearing arguments for the “sentencing phase”. They will decide whether or not the defendant will spend the rest of his life in jail or if he will die for his crimes.

After the verdict was read I made my way to the comment section of the story and was a bit surprised to find everyone stating without a shadow of a doubt that this man was not insane and that he deserved death. I remember feeling, as I have many times since this tragedy happened over three years ago, a deep sadness.

I am sad for the victims and their families. I am sad for my whole community. I am also sad for the defendants family. And I admit, I am sad for this poor man too.

I know what he did was wrong. I would never dispute that fact but I wonder if our definition for insanity might be a bit off. It seems legally he only had to know that what he was doing was wrong to face the possibility of death by the state. I have a strong feeling that this just isn’t the right way.

Over the three years that I have had this horrible event and trial in my mind I have reevaluated my feelings on the death penalty and I think I have come out of this knowing that it just isn’t right. More than that, I don’t even believe it is useful.

The first thing that gave me pause was the permanence of death. Once we decide to kill someone we can’t go back. What if we are wrong? In this case we know he committed the crime but there have been others where we executed the wrong one. How can we live with that possibility? I would rather the guilty ones live so we don’t kill any more innocents.

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot.

– Exodus 21:24

Historically capital punishment seems to me to only have been used as a means of revenge and possibly a deterrent. Revenge serves little purpose other than the possibility of closer for the families but I would argue that letting the perpetrator live, studying him, and finding the underlying causes so that we could recognize the warning signs in others and prevent further tragedy would be a much more satisfying conclusion then simple execution.

An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

– Mahatma Gandhi

Clearly the death penalty doesn’t work as a deterrent because, it seems, this country is dealing with a rise in mass shootings. In fact a simple Google search showed me there was “still no evidence that executions deter criminals” and that the F.B.I. Confirms a Sharp Rise in Mass Shootings Since 2000. I mean it seems obvious that if people feared death they would not commit such crimes but they do, time and time again. It seems almost….insane?

People laugh at me when I tell them the thing that finally changed my mind completely on the idea of capital punishment. IT was a quote from Gandalf the wizard in Lord of the Rings. In the books Frodo believes that if only Gollum had been killed he would have been safe. Gandalf in turn lectures him about what should be for him to decide and what shouldn’t:

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

This touches on my first point about the permanence of death and the possibility of killing an innocent. I just don’t think we should be dealing out death to the ones who we believe deserve it when we can’t give life to the ones who deserve that too.

So what do we do instead? How do we punish those who commit the most heinous crimes. Well, I think we should start by taking a look at the ways in which society contributes to it’s members feeling like this is the only way to get what they need, and we should look at the state of our mental health care.

People who commit theses crimes are deeply disturbed and probably hurting very badly inside. Wouldn’t we be a better more just society if instead of killing them we actually rehabilitated them? Maybe even learned something from them? Then need to shed blood for blood feels so primitive, but helping those who need our help the most feels a bit more enlightened. It feels like a step forward for us all.

I’m not saying this man should ever be released from prison. I don’t know enough about him to know if he could ever be deemed anything less than a threat to society. There is a possibility that he can come to understand what he did and feel real regret and sadness for his actions. I believe he could also find some redemption in helping us prevent future deaths. Why not go that route instead?

Why the need to “fry his ass” or “kill him by firing squad”. I know we are all angry but we cannot let anger make us do something we can never come back from. We can never undo what was done and another death doesn’t ease the pain of the losses we have suffered. We should all stop and think about what is right and why.

We might find out that there could be a better way after all.

P.S. This was written with all due respect for the victims, their families, and the community. The views expressed are my own opinion and were voiced with no ill intent.

My Worst Fears

Fear is a hard thing for me to write about. Not because of of a fear of talking about fear but because I have so many fears! I am secretly full of anxiety everyday but I try my best to mask it. Fake it til you make it right? My worst fears center around the meaning of my life and the impact of my death. Two sides of the same coin really. I have written about this before. I think about death a lot, just about everyday. I worry I will die soon and I worry my life means nothing.

I’m afraid that if I died my girlfriend would be left alone and depressed. I’m afraid she would never recover from the loss of me. She keeps to herself a lot and doesn’t reveal her feelings often. I’m afraid if she lost me she wouldn’t have anyone to talk to. I’m afraid for her emotionally on so many levels. She needs me just as much as I need her. We take care of each other and I have tasked myself with being the keeper of her secrets. I know her better than anyone and I fear that if I died I would be taking a part of her with me.

I’m afraid that if I died my family would fall apart too. I worry about all of them so much and I worry that if I wasn’t here there would be no one left to worry. I also do my best to help them out whenever I can. I’m there for them emotionally and financially, although they haven’t needed me as much recently. I’m still here though and I worry about what would happen to them if they needed me and I wasn’t here. I also try hard to be the peace keeper. In the past this has often backfired on me but in the end we almost always work it out. I try to act as a go between and talk to all parties involved and help them understand that we are family and we need each other.

I guess also afraid if I died I’d miss out on their lives. I’m also afraid to mourn anyone. I don’t want to miss out on my niece and nephew growing up. I don’t want to miss my little sisters wedding. I don’t even want to miss my parents funerals. I am afraid of them dying too but I want to be there for my siblings when it happens. I want to be there to see my soon-to-be wife grow old. I want to be there to experience all the joys of life in my old age.

I also fear of finding out there was no point in me being on this earth at all. I’m afraid the I am the epitome of insignificance. What if I do die and no one really cares? What if I die and it’s like I was never even here. I want to have some impact on the world. I want my family to remember me but I also hope that I have some affect of the world outside of my small circle of friends and family. Guess that is why I’m here and why one day I’d like to write a book. I want shout something to the world before I’m gone. My hope is someone will hear me, and maybe that person will even begin to think about the way they live and make a change. Maybe they will pass on my message and maybe a few people will change. That’s my hope, but my fear is I am talking to a void and my life will have meant nothing.

And finally, I am afraid that my life actually does mean something. This clearly contradicts my fear of being insignificant but we all know the human mind often makes no sense at all. The saying “be careful what you wish for” comes to mind a lot. What if what I think I want isn’t what I want at all? The drive to be something in this world is incredibly pressuring. If I mean something then I have to always be aware of what I say and do. My actions will live on after I am gone and I would hate to be remembered as anything less than good. If I mean something than I have to try hard everyday. If I mean something then I have to be something.

I deal with these fears everyday. I do my best to accept and overcome them. Worrying about things I cannot change doesn’t help me at all. I have to just do my best to be good and make the best of the time I have with my loved ones. I have to try to be true to myself and make an impact wherever and whenever I can. Maybe I will get to live the life I want. A life of happiness and meaning. Or maybe I won’t but I do think I have done enough good and seen enough joy that I could die happy.

Prompt via the Daily Post’s Writing 101 course.