I believe that life is connections. Connections to the ground we place our feet on, the fruit we wash, the art we look at, the people whose hands we hold. We touch things, hear things, see things and we make them move, make them work, affirm their existence, and they, in turn, do the same for us. I believe that we are only alive in so much as we reverberate off of the objects and people around us, and that our interaction with these things is the discernable act of living. Not the meaning of life, but the essence of life. Without an object to bounce off of, a sound wave may exist, but it doesn’t live, doesn’t do anything. It has no sound, it makes no impact, it does not cause anything, it is not loved or hated. It is absent.
My aunt was recently diagnosed with cancer. It is terminal and it is fast. She recently told me about a plant that she’s had for decades. In all the time she’s had the plant, its flowers have only bloomed once each year. This year, for the first time, they bloomed twice. She takes that as a good sign, a sign of possibility, a sign of audacious rebellion against science, a hopeful example of that first time that an ostensibly obedient life force chooses to spin off of its predictable axis and charge its own destiny. A sign that inevitability can be outmaneuvered by will power. Her reservoir of promise replenished by her connection to a mere plant.
The end of life is the end of connections. Nothing of “living” to be tethered to. Not a spouse, not friends, not the bills, the milk in the refrigerator, the magazine subscriptions. Nothing more to interact with. How can my aunt understand, really understand, that she will become unconnected from everything she has ever seen, tasted, touched, or loved, and not be immediately destroyed by the enormity of that thought? How can she carry that weight and, at the same time, have the energy not only to continue to combat the very illness crushing her, but also to continue to be herself, to live her life? Where in the mass of atoms and cells and fibers that composes her body does she gather the strength to continue such routine and meaningless tasks as ironing clothes, brushing hair, or garnishing a plate, when such surreality lies so close at hand? Hope in the face of fear is easy to explain, but what about the ability to act ordinary in the face of the unthinkable? Where does that come from? I believe it comes from the innate and remarkable human capacity to connect to a thing as mundane and marvelous as a blooming plant.
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