This weekend, as I traveled by train to Vancouver, B.C. with my husband, I read a book called When Breath Becomes Air. It was written by a young doctor, Paul Kalanithi, who was in his final training as a neurosurgeon in California when he was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. He was also a wonderful writer. The book was written as he was going through the painful disease and ravages of chemo.
There is a place in the book in which he discusses how dying informs life. The question is: if we knew we were dying, would we live differently? And how would that be?
I like to wonder out loud about these things every so often because I think it helps us, or me, at least, live more consciously. Maybe it’s my upbringing. Maybe my years of working with sick people as a nuclear medical technologist before I became a photographer. Maybe the many times I photographed people in various stages of health over my career.
I ask myself if I am doing what I could, should, ought to be doing in my life as a friend, spouse, teacher, musician, artist. Have I told you lately that I love you? Have I been adventurous, creative, kind enough, brave enough? Have I stopped to play with the cat, watch the leaves unfurl, say thank you?
Just today, a long-time friend died of cancer after a very brief illness. I was supposed to photograph him and his wife at their home next week. I wish we could have had that time. Meanwhile, today I signed up for an art workshop that I have long wanted to take. And I am working on an album of songs, something I have dreamed of. If I knew I were dying next week, would I live differently? I think the only thing I would change is that I would reach out to everyone I love to tell them that I love them. Again.
About the image: This image, called “Into the Clouds,” is part of my “Rapture” Series. It was created with an antique dress that once belonged to an elderly neighbor and which I bought at her moving sale as she prepared to move to an assisted care facility. She made it by hand to wear dancing on her first trip to New York City as a young woman. The dress was carefully floated in water outdoors to look as if it is passing through the sky or from one dimension to the next. It will be in the Artist Trust Auction in February. You can see more from this series on my website.