I have never climbed Mount Everest, surfed the shores of Peru, or cooked a twelve-course meal. But I have read my children a bedtime story, hugged my husband, and told my sister, “I love you.” I live the best I can within each mundane, “everyday” day. I pour Cheerios for breakfast. Drive the carpool. Plan a birthday party. I do not yearn to meet the Dalai Lama nor covet the Pulitzer Prize. This I believe: if I live in the present, finding joy and peace in my daily life, I live fully. If I conduct myself with grace, I set an example for my children.
Where I grew up, parents let their kids wander. “Come home when the street lights go on,” Mom said. We biked or roller-skated to the park and scooted home for dinner as the day cooled into evening. Our parents assumed we could get from the street to the table unharmed. Where I live today, we fear letting our children ride their bikes more than a block. The idea of my daughter walking home from school alone sends a shiver down my spine. What if she were kidnapped? Hit by a car?
My anxiety comes from reality. During my teens, a friend fell out of a moving pickup truck. A prankster, he thought it would be funny to stand up in the back. He did not survive the fall. Our small town grieved for this boy, so handsome, so golden, so young he had not graduated from high school. Here I sit, thirty years later, still mourning him. And I feel afraid.
How do we live our lives when we know death lurks around the corner? What motivates us to carry on despite devastating loss? This boy’s parents provide great instruction. They tended their child’s grave, marked his birthdays and anniversaries with flowers. They established a scholarship. They grieved openly and privately. Gradually, in bits and pieces, they soldiered on.
Until recently, my own life was as relatively peaceful as the bike rides of my youth. But whether we experience the death of a child or a shocking illness, at some point, the peace ends. At forty-four, I was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. My daughters were five and eight at the time. After surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, I still live with a chronic disease and ongoing treatment. We may close our eyes to the specter, the blob under the bed, the creature in the closet. The tragedy. But it is there.
Like my friend’s parents, I too soldier on. I kiss my kids good-bye each morning, reasonably confident they will return safely. I help them master fourth-grade history and sixth-grade math, assuming they will grow up to graduate high school and go to college. I celebrate another birthday. Cook spaghetti for dinner. Scoop chocolate ice cream. Savor the sunset. Simply, I live. While I can imagine a utopia, I believe there is no heaven except the place we are right now.
Amy Miller lives with her husband, daughters, and Wheaten terrier by the shore in Manhattan Beach, California. She grew up in Claremont, California. A graduate of UCLA, she enjoys walking on the beach, reading, and meditating.
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