Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying

Brenda - Seattle, Washington
Entered on November 10, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe in the power of decision.

My grandmother just celebrated her 100th birthday. She is an amazing woman. Gram – as I affectionately call her – is hard of hearing and somewhat fragile, but her physical appearance betrays her centenarian status. She is sharp as a tack, well-read, politically astute, opinionated, and still enjoys a good dirty joke.

Gram is a breast cancer survivor.

More significantly, however, I believe my grandmother is also a survivor of another kind of cancer which you will not find in Gray’s Anatomy of the Human Body. This cancer eats away at the core of a person, a family, a relationship, a community. Fed by a steady diet of staples including negativity, fear, neediness, loneliness, hurt, neglect and mistrust, if allowed, this cancer will destroy the soul.

When faced with adversity, no words personify my belief in the power of decision more than those spoken by Red, Morgan Freeman’s character in the film, The Shawshank Redemption: “You either get busy living, or get busy dying.”

Twelve years ago, Gram’s life changed drastically. First, she had a heart attack. The following year, she lost her life partner of almost 70 years when my grandfather passed away at the age of 96. Later that same year, she lost her right leg to diabetes and, after recuperating at a convalescence center, she left the home she’d known for over 30 years in Eastern Washington and moved into a Jewish nursing home in Seattle. Faced with entering an entirely new phase of her life, she had to make the decision: survival or surrender.

Now, Gram was in that place. Suddenly, she had a lot of time on her hands, time to sit and re-assess her life over and over, contemplating her own mortality. We all knew it wouldn’t be easy for her. But gradually, she reinvented herself to adapt to her new surroundings, relying on her resourcefulness. In short, Gram decided to get busy living.

On the occasion of Gram’s 100th birthday party in the room where she spends so much of her time doing ceramics, painting, playing bingo, kibbutzing, sharing laughs – I was awestruck by the four generations of family gathered around her, none of whom would be living and breathing were it not for her (and my grandfather, of course). While marveling at this scene, it brought me great comfort acknowledging the conscious decision she made long ago – to get busy living. For, despite her feelings of uncertainty, frustration, and disappointment which all of us experience in addition to the triumphs, joys, and accomplishments of a life well-lived – Gram continues to make a conscious decision to be the hero of her own story.

I believe our survival depends on the decisions we make, that is, those decisions that are within our power, including the conscious decision to summon the inner strength required to get busy living, to look for things that feed your soul, to find moments of inspiration, redemption, and sweetness in the most unlikely places, and grab them when you can.