Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tiny Spots, Almost Unnoticed

While sitting on the toilet, I look closely at my fingers. I see that the pores around my fingernails are all a faint gray. It looks like mold. My first thought is, "I wonder if this is the beginning of the end?" It's probably just dirt that's worked it's way into my skin, attached itself to the oil in my pores. I always think, "Is this the beginning of the end?", though, in seemingly innocuous situations like these.

It happens all the time. A small spot on somebody's leg turns out to be flesh-eating bacteria or skin cancer. A pain in the chest turns out to be the preamble to a heart attack. What appeared after dinner to be heart burn was actually something deadly. I don't want to be overdramatic, but these things happen. My mother works with dying people. She once told me a story about a man who went in for heart surgery. When they opened up his torso, they discovered that he did not, in fact, have heart problems--he had five huge tumors spread throughout his chest and abdomen. Had they caught it earlier, he might've been saved, but they'd concluded his health problems were just the usual heart problems of a man his age. No one ever thinks, "This is going to be the pain that kills me." Or, at least, most people don't. When it happens to me, I will have thought it. I will have thought it about a thousand times over.

I know this is dirt in my pores, but what if...what if it isn't?

I know this is silly. "That's no way to live!" says the proverbial "they" who live in my head. I remember some nonsense about life being too short. But how are we supposed to remember that life is too short if we don't stay in close contact with the understanding that at every moment we are separated from death by the thinnest veneer? I know this is silly insofar as absolutely no one wants to read me write about it. These spots on my fingers? I feel compelled to remember that they could be deadly. I feel it would cheapen the act of living to brush off the possibility of dying so flippantly. Within hours, whatever this is could take over my entire body, or it won't. I don't believe in impossibility, so it's impossible to do the mental tricks necessary to forget.

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