Last weekend I fainted.
Normally, this would be NBD; I’ve fainted lots of times. It’s unpleasant* but temporary. This time, it was the middle of the night and I was at the top of the staircase when I passed out. I woke up at the bottom of it.
I came to face-down, one of the dogs licking my arm, wailing involuntarily for a few moments until I pieced together what happened. (It’s exceptionally bizarre when this splice of your consciousness is just missing, when you moved from A to B and everything hurts.) My head ached. So did my neck and my hip. Andy brought me an ice pack. Maybe we should have gone to the hospital, but it was late.
The next day I spoke with my sister, a physician’s assistant. She told me to look out for signs of concussion — fuzzy vision, headaches, memory weirdness — and to get an X-ray if my neck continued hurting to rule out a fracture. We agreed not to tell our parents, who have a teensy propensity toward fretting. (Sorry, Jen, I’ve broken our agreement.)
The next morning, I felt banged up but otherwise okay. No signs of concussion. Today all that’s left is an impressive purple bruise on my hip.
All week, I’ve been avoiding dwelling on the most obvious takeaway: I could have died. I banged my head, hard, in a fall down the stairs. That moment near the top, when I barely had time to register wooziness, could have been the last feeling I felt on this earth.
But I shouldn’t avoid dwelling on that. It’s not uncommon for those who’ve had near-death experiences to start living more fully — to focus deeply on what matters, to tell the people you love that you love them.
Without these occasional glimpses of mortality, we worry about how people would receive our outpourings of earnest love. We tend not to offer them day-to-day, for fear of being perceived as overemotional weirdos. A couple years ago, we lost a young family friend. I was in South Africa at the time; my parents and I cried together over FaceTime. “We love you so much, honey,” Dad said. “You look so beautiful right now.”
It’s better to risk being weird, I think.
It’s better to gush at the people you love about how special they are. It’s better to accept death is coming for all of us, so we might as well do what we can with the time we have. That’s what Destino Pura Vida is about, in a way: to create the kind of life where, toward the end of it, I’ll feel good about how I spent my time.**
“Only when you accept death can you free yourself from it, can you deal with it, can you move forward from it,” says Philip Gould in the short film When I Die: Lessons from the Death Zone. “Acceptance is the absolute key. At that moment, you gain freedom, and you gain power, and you gain courage.”
I promise it’s worth your time to give it a watch. Then call up or write to the people who mean the most to you and tell them how wonderful they are.
tl;dr You’re wonderful, and I love you. I’m so glad we’re both on this planet.
* * *
*Especially the disoriented, waking-up part. If you’ve never fainted, it sort of feels like your mind is scrambled, like a channel you don’t get on an old television set, for a few seconds of semi-consciousness before you fully come to. That moment lasts just long enough to terrify you that your brain might be stuck in this buzzing, crazy-making way forever. Anyway, it sucks. What’s comforting about fainting, on the other hand, is that you just go out, like that. You don’t know anything; you’re out. So if that’s what death is like, we’ll all be fine.
**If I do die soon, rest assured I’ve had a great life. Don’t be too sad about how I went before my time — just throw a fantastic party, preferably with bagpipes followed by a bluegrass band. And lots of carbs for everyone.