When I was 18 years old, a cardiologist told me I'd be lucky to live to see my 30th birthday. From that day onward, the concept of mortality has been a constant companion for me. However, despite the fact that it's always present, my sense of scale has changed a number of times.
From that fateful meeting it took me six long, agonizing years to make sense of my 'expiry date', which is how I'd come to think of my 30th birthday. I wrote about that time in my book and during those years, the scale was singular. It was about me - my imminent death, my mortality. No one else could really identify with what I was going through, so it was a path I walked alone.
Then one day, I had the incredible realization that I was using the wrong scale. Mortality wasn't unique to me - it’s something I share with all living creatures. Death is just the other end of the deal we sign up for at birth. What was unique is that I'd been given a peak behind the curtain and as a result I wasn't walking around in the otherwise shared delusion that I was going to live forever. This is when I went from being someone with a expiry date, to being a Mortal.
In 2003, the scale shifted once more. I realized I need to share my story. I would invite others (the Immortals) to hear my story and peak behind the curtain in the hopes that they too might benefit from living like a Mortal.
And that's how things were for a long time, and it worked wonderfully.
In 2020, my sense of scale got thrown completely out of whack. Mortality wasn't just something that I thought of on an individual level anymore. The rising waves of the global pandemic and the accompanying death tolls made things seem much larger and more pressing.
This was completely exacerbated by the fact that I wasn't able to invoke the comforting cognitive dissonance of the Immortals and tell myself things like: 'I'm sure it will all be fine' or 'I don't think it's something I need to word about.' No, my Mortal thinking went into overdrive and pushed me in the opposite direction - being overly cautious and concerned about my safety and the safety of everyone I love. Of course I, like everyone else, was powerless to do much to address this, so it just wore on.
And once my defence alarms had gone off, I was hypersensitive to any perceived threat. The chaotic US election campaign and ensuing aftermath. The schism around vaccines and other public health directives. The climate emergency that seems to be going largely unheeded. All of these were amplified by, and contributed to, my skewed sense of scale.
Here in the dwindling days of 2021...I'm slowly beginning to get things back into perspective and restore the proper sense of scale.
Some days it's easier than others.
But I do my best to remind myself:
I'm Mortal. And I'm still here!
So live like it matters.