I was born a healthy child, but botulism almost claimed my life only two months later. I fell from a precipice while hiking at age six. At fourteen, I missed an IRA bombing outside the Tower of London. While “queuing up” to see the Crown Jewels, youth got a hold of me; I lost interest and eventually left. Thirty minutes later, a bomb went off!
Do you think I took notice? Not even and thankfully so! Such turn of events could have prompted delusions of greatness or eschatological purpose. Dangerous outcomes! I am pretty sure I am not a cat however; and yet, I can recall several occurrences through which I eluded a shorter stay on this earth. The most theatrical one involved a huge sheet of glass form the ceiling of Milan Central Station It detached from its frame without warning, crashing on the platform where I… should have been. Because I had briefly hesitated, unsure of which direction to take, not a single shard even chafed me.
Ironically, reality hit me at seventeen, but NOT because I risked dying. I had come down with a very pedestrian case of misdiagnosed mononucleosis. For lack of better options, I was admitted to the leukemia ward of the local hospital. A month later, I was the only patient to walk out of the room I had shared with five other women.
That is when I took notice. I was forced to by my “next-bed-neighbor”, Ornella, a 16-year-old who infected me with her sheer exuberance in ways that I will never forget. When she died a belief took hold of my heart, and it is still nourishing me today. At first, I did scramble for meaning to justify such random picking, but somehow, I managed to focus on action instead. I would carry the flag for both, with dignity, through good times and not, to fulfill my dreams and those Ornella never could.
I believe in living this life for two.
Although tinged with defiance, such belief seemed the sanest one I could hold on to as a teenager who had experienced the fragility of life and the complete irrationality of its painful selection.
Ornella was joyful, so I am living life with more joy than I can sometimes feel. She could see real beauty, so I incessantly seek it in the humblest of places. She was caring, so I reach out, even if it hurts. Life itself sort of validated my odd belief doubling both my happiness and grief: I married twice, unintentionally of course; I have one son and one I lost. I enjoyed two careers and continue to thrive in two communities, disparate realities on opposite sides of an ocean. I even have two “best” friends!
While my belief may not explain the meaning of Life or the purpose of mine, it is continuously adding value to my existence in ways I could have not imagined had I lived my life as if it were only my own.
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