The Power of One’s Mortality

Dec 05, 2011
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This week I experienced a first. A horrible, dreaded, stop-you-in-your-footsteps first. One of my student’s in class is dying.

I knew that she was ill. I knew that she had an autoimmune disease that was a giant bully to her body—aggressive, relentless, and unyielding. However, because of her continuous smile and silent battle, I never really quite realized how her body was suffering, nor how much she was suffering.

She missed my class on Friday, which I paid no mind to because she missed a lot of classes and a lot of Fridays due to her illness and last-ditch treatment regimens. After class, she showed up in my office with the most faint reminder of sorrow faded on her reddened cheeks. The only thing that I could do was tell her that I was glad to see her. The only thing that she could do was take a deep breath, and finally let it all go.

She began to sob. She told me about a meeting with a college pre-admissions counselor prior that day. She told me that the counselor asked her about her plans for college and career. Apparently for the first time in this young soldier’s life, she was forced to think about the future—a future in which she neither had no guarantee for, and a future in which she had never suggested. I sat there in my office with this child that was, for the first time ever, realizing her own mortality.

She has always known that her disease is powerful, it’s the one in charge; however she had never really chosen to take that all in. She chose to live her life in the only way she knew how. She chose to live her life one day at a time. If everyone had more ability to see the world by each moments, there would be far more people living the lives that they desired. I told her this. I told her that the best thing that she could have done for herself was to think of her life by moments, and ignore the future or any notion of such. I told her that this unique perspective is what has helped her to live a truly contented life so far, and she agreed. Together we talked about the twisted opportunity of having your health ripped from you. I too, have endured such an existence, just not in the same immunosuppressed manner.

After several tears and minutes each, she looked at her phone, smiled, and told me that she was late for chemotherapy and that she’d see me on Monday. That same smile that I see every single day came back. Her smile was left with me in my thoughts ever since. She is a bright light and a wonderful spirit of a girl that deserves to experience every part of life that she could ever dream. And you know what, she will; and she’ll do it simply because of having to face that very thing that will eventually take it all away: one’s own mortality.

Author: Ryan McLean