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It was during my yoga class today while doing my breathing exercises, which have become almost second nature to me, that I was brought back to a time five years ago when I became familiar with my own mortality. A reality in the chaos and utter insanity that had become my life that I had previously seldom, if ever given any thought sober or otherwise. Back then I didn’t give sober thought to much because God knows there weren’t many sober moments, yet there were plenty when I thought I would not make it out alive.
These breathing exercises reminded me of a few long moments in time when I quite serenely realized I was very possibly going to be introduced to what lay across that great divide. Some people call it death. Many people fear it, some for good reason. After age ten I never so much feared it, partly out of my own ignorance, as I did respect it. Coming from a very large extended family I started attending funerals early in life. Sadly many of them were not good deaths but does anyone ever really die good? My parents were never afraid to show us the reality of life and for that I thank them. I recall on the trip to the hospital in the front seat of my buddies suburban, I struggled with every breath not sure if it would be my last. I fought for and welcomed every hard earned breath. I wanted more than anything to taste the sweet air and stay here with all of you. Laying there on that hospital gurney clutching at my chest weakly as they cut my clothes from my body, shoved needles into my veins and hooked me up to IV’s, I realized just how much for granted I took breathing in a very real sense.
I also made peace with God as I know Him just in case I didn’t make it through. Laying there I realized that because I had learned respect for death I was not so much afraid of dying as I was of not having lived right. Dying I’ve done before, too many times over. Dying was something I had seen happen in front of me. It was something I was used to. My dying was done in the cold, dark cells of jails and prisons, shitty barrooms and nasty, filthy apartments that doubled as whore houses and tripled as dope dens. It was done dimly lit rooms with bad men masquerading as your friends. All the insanity quietly and patiently cut pieces out of me until I was emotionally and spiritually dead. To borrow a phrase from a great book I read I was ‘morally bankrupt’. Death was my inability to feel for or care for anything or for anyone at all. Such was that inability that I wasn’t even able to hate myself anymore. If death is anything, it is patient. So it was nothing less than a miracle that I would be rescued from myself and slowly over many years be taught how to live and be alive again. You see, living and being alive are two very different things.
Yes, all of these thoughts raced through my mind while doing my breathing exercises during yoga. They passed through my thoughts in no more than a few moments not unlike those few long moments of five years ago, but under very different circumstances. It’s amazing how much can pass through one’s mind in the span of a few moments. Sometimes it’s a whole life. I have heard it said that when death is close your life passes before your eyes like watching a rerun of a movie. The question is will that movie of your life have been worth watching. I enjoy breathing and like death, I respect my breathing exercises. Through them I have realized that I am breathing not just to live but to be as alive as I really am today.
In my mind there are only two things for certain in this life. One, we all live and two, we all die. We all have to do both of them alone. It’s how we spend our time on this earth that will determine whether or not we have truly lived. I suspect those final moments will be quite different for those of us who choose to really be alive than it will for those who simply chose to take up space while they were here.
Some would say I am preoccupied with death. I suppose at one time there was a good degree of truth in that. I grew up feeling it all around me, I spend a good portion of my adult years surrounded by it and the constant threat of it. Recently, with regard to a serious family conversation between my older sister and I about a deceased relative that there are just some things she does not want to know about in the lives of those she loves. She prefers to remain ignorant about some things. Ignorant that is in the sense that it’s the smartest way to remain. I imagine that portions of my life may fit into her ‘prefer not to know’ category. There are just some things that no longer need be talked about or thought of as part of life. That was another time, another place, another life I suppose.
With that being said if you read between the lines you will understand that this has everything to do with really living and really nothing at all to do with dying.
An old friend recently commented to me that she thought I had an exciting life. I don’t know how true that is or is not. I do know I have never been one to conform to social norms of life, they’ve always bored me. I mean c’mon check my record that should tell you everything. I’ve had the good fortune to sit at the table and break bread with many interesting, often notorious people. They’ve run the gamut from politicians and celebrities to gangsters, bank robbers and hit men, millionaires and bust-outs, vagabonds, gypsies and hippies to sinners and saints and an assortment of lunatics, madmen and madams. I tend to attract the demented types.
I’ve traveled quite a bit and usually get up and go whenever I feel like for the most part. I have seen the sun rise in the east over mountains and set quietly over the ocean in the west. I been guest at to some pretty crazy Hollywood parties and shared tea with a few genuinely inspirational gurus of sorts. Though this way of life is not without its share of anxiety and angst, doubt and insecurity both financially and emotionally I don’t know that I could live any other way or would really care to. I guess if these things qualify as exciting I might be onto something.
As long as I can remember I roamed. I roamed whenever the mood struck me. I would disappear for months at a time only to re-appear as the same person just a bit spicier, wiser and wackier. I have always felt that if you’re going to really live, live out loud or not at all. For I know no other way.
Some people live vicariously through others while I much prefer that others live vicariously through me. I mean why let everyone else have all the fun. Let them go find their own fun though I’m not adverse to sharing mine. It’s not as if there’s a shortage on fun these days, if anything there’s too much to be had and way too many trying to get a piece of the action.
Now getting back to living right, there is living right and there is living wrong. Some live the socially acceptable way and some of us simply live right by themselves and others by way of our own conscious. The latter is the only one I really care about. For far too long I lived wrong by and did my share of people wrong. I never claimed to qualify as a saint nor do I think I would care to. Someone once said, “no one in this room will see heaven”, I am quite certain there are no halos in my future. Anyway there’s already a Saint Stephen who’s cornered that market. Though I wouldn’t turn down a set of wings if it meant I could help steer the wayward in another direction. Now that’s something I know a little bit about. But I will readily admit there are those out there who wish me no good life success and well, quite honestly, why should they? There’s not much I can do about the bad blood. There are however those out there who know I have worked hard at change. Those who know I have done my best to right my wrongs where I have been able and live right and contribute positively to this world. These are the only ones I concern myself with. It is nothing short of a miracle and spiritual epiphany that I was granted a second chance at life, a daily reprieve if you will. I never have been the kind to look a gift horse in the mouth.
I was afforded an opportunity many are offered but few choose to reconvene, take stock of and utilize. That opportunity is our God given choice to live right and utilize our talents for a greater purpose. And what good is having talent if you’re not going use them to help others in some fashion? Living loud and using our experience to live right by doing what we think is right. Who are we if not a culmination of our life experiences? It seems as if there is always a little fear in doing the right thing and living the right way. Maybe because it usually means going against the grain and not being concerned with what others will think of you. Maybe, because it means not following the pack or trying to lead the pack, but instead walking one owns path to wherever the road may lead. Sometimes that road might be a little lonely and sometimes it may even be a little scary. If you don’t have a little fear in your life you just ain’t living.
Enjoying life just isn’t as hard as some like to think it is. Maybe they just want it to be because they haven’t yet figured out how to get out of their own way yet. Helping others enjoy it is even easier if you allow it to be. Somehow I found a way to get out of my own way and just let it be whatever it’s going to. I can’t quite put my finger on when this phenomenon happened and I guess I pretty much quit trying to figure it out. I just got out of my own way I guess.
I have always been good creating and have learned to create the world I want to live in. I live and breathe to create hence the reason I practice breathing. I finally allowed myself to be alive and learn how to breathe. Words make me breathe. Words are the oxygen that feeds my soul, they give me life. Words help me get out the poison. These words you have read are me breathing to live and living out loud. There’s a lot to be said for breathing heavily, not being afraid to be alive and just living out loud. The only real world we live in is our own and who and what we invite into our world is our choice. We continually create and re-create who we are and who we want to be. It’s a growing process that never ends. We become what we create and in the end, what will that be?