My Slow Dance With Death

When I was 23 years old I thought I was dying for the third time in my life. Some people face death once, at the end of a long and healthy life. Some of us get a face to face glimpse of our mortality in an accident and choose to come back. And some of us slow dance with death without realizing what we've swayed with until it removes its mask at song's end.

I breathed death in as a child and then backed away. After graduating college in England, I had death jump into bed with me in Bangkok, Thailand and seize me by the throat in the middle of the night. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't move. All I could think was, "I am dying. Right here in a place where no one knows me and I can't yell for help." Not even my friend knew what was happening as she lay in the bed next to me, sleeping peacefully as I struggled to inhale.

Somehow the panic subsided and I felt my chest begin to rise and fall, but the fear was embedded in each heartbeat.

This is what it feels like to die. This is what it feels like to be surprised by the one reality we all face.

And now what.

After flying back to the States as fast as I could buy tickets, I made a bucket list. When I had cancer as a child I knew deep down it wasn't my time to drop skin and fly. But the panic attack and subsequent nervous breakdown showed me that life is infinitely creative in how it can shake you.

Time is an illusion. Youth didn't protect me from a broken body and education didn't shelter me from the wilds of the psyche run amok. All the exercise and positive self-talk and therapy and adventure and acts of compassion didn't prevent terror from overtaking my good sense, so what choices did I have?

As I lay in the shuttered cocoon of my childhood bedroom I came to several places.

To act. To move. To face the truth. To rest. To be kind.

For awhile, I pitied people who had never experienced outright fear or confronted their own mortality. It seemed to me that the only way people could become real was to have the illusion of stability and stasis be ripped to shreds. Only then could they begin to ask, "If I am not my body, job, house, spouse, religion, political party, or bank account, what am I?"

I began preparing for death at 8 and have continued to live with one eye on the end ever since.

The greatest challenge has been to not get frozen into numbing out or losing the hard won perspective I struggled so hard to resist.

And now I find death coming as my teacher again, but to a different song and with a different step.

As I look around at all the suffering and fear that has been revealed in the United States over the last year, I see the underpinnings of our country and it shakes me once again.

If there was one thing I always felt sure of, it was that America was the greatest country on earth in terms of being a safe place and providing opportunity to reach your fullest potential. While I was disappointed in many aspects of its history, such as the Native American genocide and the enslavement of Africans for the profit of other men, those felt like ancient history. We had learned from our mistakes and become as a whole, more compassionate.

But it isn't true. We have continued to keep the colored communities enslaved through vehicles like mass incarceration and stigmatizing the poor. We continue to renege on our promises to the Native Americans that they are sovereign nations with power over the lands we forced them onto.

And we, as white folks, refuse to look at the fact that we are all profiting from a society that demands we consume things we don't need, that we exploit the earth for materials we could do without, and we force the poor to do the labor we think is beneath us. Then call them dirty immigrants and terrorize their families by sending in more poor people to round them up and send them back across the border.

To top off the American Dream Shakedown

, I don't feel safe in public places anymore. I don't go to movie theaters or the mall as often as I once did because these are the places that home grown terrorists seem to prefer for their outbursts. I don't enjoy flying like I once did either for similar reasons.

It wasn't hard to walk away from those with my past track record. Less consumption and more creativity are my carrots.

But then I started learning about meta data and how our every move online is more or less traceable and used to create profiles for targeted marketing. Top that off with a president who surrounds himself with conspiracy theorists and xenophobic propagandists and suddenly it's getting scary to state your true opinion online.

Anonymity is gone, and with it, the freedom to be absolutely candid without possible recourse.

So again, I find myself faced with having to make a list of what I stand to loose by standing for what I wish to create.

I am a white American. Right now, I have alot. A family. An able body. A good income. A house I own. A car I own. Organic food. An education. The American Dream.

But I could loose it all by choosing to speak truth and align myself with the marginalized and oppressed.

And while those things are all significant draws, the most important one to me is life. I want this life.

And that is one of the things we all loose at some point, but to willingly and consciously choose to potentially cut that short feels a bit like insanity.

And that is mostly because I have been allowed to have far more insulators between my life and death than many Americans who inherited dark skin.

But nothing is permanent. I've learned that lesson before.

Do I want society to crumble? Do I want the Cascadia Subduction Zone to go kaput? No. Do I want to start a revolution? No.

But I do want the truth. Hard as it may be to face. Harder still to utter.
I invest in the luminous. I aim to transcend the chaos and changeability of this physical, temporary world. And the only way I know how to do that, to live that, is to follow the truth as far as it will take me.

So if you see me on the streets protesting, I hope you see light. If you read my writings as I tug the tiger's tail, I thank you for your bravery and time. And if, by chance, you should find yourself in the middle of a storm of personal meaning, I hope you will consider me an ally and a friend.


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