Today I met two of my ex-students for coffee. Last year they did a Life Story Blogging course I was leading. They both wrote stories from their lives and put them up on blogs for their children and grandchildren to read.
When you put together three women and give them a cup of coffee each, there is no shortage of topics to talk about.
We talked non-stop, without catching our breaths, and still only scratched the surface of our lives. Maybe that is was why women, are so keen to write our life stories because we are custodians of stories.
Each of us has gone through so much, and much of it is ‘untalkable’ when we are going through it, it is no wonder that we take refuge in writing.
Although I got their permission to write this article based on our conversation; I won’t reveal their names and call them S and M instead.
When S started writing her life story, she churned out 1000 plus words every day for six months. She still has two decades of her life to write about. Having worked as a nurse, teacher, and at UNO in her younger days, she has a lot to write about. Besides, she has cycled through the world and later on walked more than twenty countries.
No doubt she has a lot to write about.
M was different. At first, she was hesitant and had less faith in her ability to tell her story. She needed a little help to start her blog. But once she started writing, we were all enthralled with her ability to tell a story. She is a natural storyteller.
With the curiosity of a child, she would listen to each one of us patiently, asking innocent questions. She then would come up with a scintillating story with a remarkable insight that would leave us gasping.
“You know my status has changed since we met last,” beamed M, radiating with an inner glow, “I am a great-grandmother now. My twenty-three years old grandson and his partner had a baby boy. They brought him over to show me. When I saw him, I gasped. He is the spitting image of his grandfather, my son Andrew.”
“Really!” Both S and I exclaimed together. We knew M had lost her son in a road accident at a very young age.
We saw baby photos and of beaming merely seventy-years old grandmother when I asked matter-of-factly, “How are you doing, M? Have you recovered from the operation earlier in the year. You look good, I must say.”
“Well, the news is not so good.”
I stopped in my tracks.
“I was telling S before you arrived. They have removed one lung, as you know. Now Cancer has gone to my other lung as well. And they have found metastasis in my left breast. They can’t tell me how long I have.”
I looked at her as if I am looking at a ghost. I feel so stupid as I am writing this. We are all going to die one day, but when we hear about writing on the wall for someone, we can’t believe it.
“They want to put me on chemo and radiation etc., but having gone through all that with my ovarian cancer, I don’t want to go through it.”
“Fair enough,” we said. In our sixties and seventies, every year we live is a year to enjoy life, not to put it through hell with the hope to extend it.
“But there is so much I want to do,” cried M. “I want to learn how to draw cartoons. I want to study anthropology. I want to finish writing my life stories. But I don’t have any time left.”
On the one hand, we agreed with her. But, on the other hand, when you know you have only a limited time left, how can you fit so much in that little time. But as soon as you give up, you are inviting death to come even sooner.
“Why don’t you make a list of all the things you want to do. Then pick one and do that.” I suggested.
“That is what my therapist suggested too. She said to pick one or two things. And I like how you are doing a thing for 100 days and then moving on to the next one. But I don’t know if I have 100 days.” M said.
She was so accepting of the inevitable that I wanted to get up and hug her.
“Why don’t you do it for 30 days instead. In fact, each month, pick up one thing from your list and do it for 30 days. Give it your full attention, enjoy it while you are doing it, and then move on to the next thing on the list.”
“That is such a great idea.” M beamed. “I don’t know how much I will be able to cover in a month.”
“A lot,” I said, “if you do a little bit every single day. If you want to study anthropology, study a few pages each day. Read some blogs. Make some notes. Write down your insights in a notebook. You might leave behind a diary full of your understanding and learnings from the study you did in a subject you always wanted to study. That will be more than people who had a degree in the subject would have done.”
“That makes a lot of sense,” said M. That is something I love so much about M. She always accepts things wholeheartedly.
“It takes me a week to write a story. I write it, then I edit it and edit it. I will only be able to write four stories in a month.”
“Maybe you should record your stories rather than type. There are so many free apps available that can transcribe. There is one that types as you speak.” I took out my mobile phone and demonstrated Otter.ai.
An hour later, I drove home, and while driving through the wide, sunny Canberra streets, I thought about the limited time I too have left on the beautiful planet earth and my ever-growing list of things I want to do.
I, too, will make a list of things I want to do and do them one at a time for 100 days each, giving them my full attention while I am doing them. And then I will let them go. There is no point in clinging to them because it will mean you won’t be able to give your full attention to the next one.
And I am going to make sure that list never ends. It is the desires that keep us alive. As long as we have a purpose and desires, life has meaning.
“You know what, my doctor is saying that my cancer is not spreading as fast as they were expecting. Maybe I will be able to cross quite a few things off my list.” I remembered M’s remark as we parted, promising each other to meet again soon.