Last week I was hospitalized with two lethal bacterial blood infections. By the time I was admitted, my body had gone septic. Was I scared? Sure. But my overwhelming emotion wasn’t fear. It was sadness. Deep sorrow for the potential loss of days ahead. For not being able to read the rest of this epic tale I’d be busily living out. But mostly, sadness at not being able to hug my sister, listen to my Uncle play his cello, and tell my friends how much they made my life worth living.
*Spoiler alert – I didn’t die.
But the next chapter I’m writing feels strange.
As many of you know, I study stress. The last time I felt my mortality quite so at hand I quit my job, sold my house and divorced my husband. To say that my current husband has been eyeing me suspiciously this past week is no understatement. He even asked me at one point straight out, “You don’t have plans to throw a grenade on this life the way you did before right?” A confident NO was my reply. It seems I’ve found some level of the fear(less) life I’d been seeking so desperately the first time – where death isn’t so much scary as it is …well, disappointing.
I love my husband.
I love my home.
I LOVE my job. <– This one was one of my most visceral emotional reactions. And yeah, it surprised me too!
My first night in the hospital (Thursday) I laid in my own sweat convinced I was going to be out and on stage in New Orleans by Monday (mostly because that was the story I had told myself and NO ONE – not my husband, not the doctors, not the nurses, NO ONE, – was going to convince me otherwise).
Maybe it was the fever, or the drugs, but I lay there preparing. While I couldn’t sleep, I re-wrote pieces of my talk. I saw myself standing on stage delivering, doing what I LOVE to do. And these exercises gave me hope. It reminded me of my purpose. It allowed me to focus on something bigger than myself. That elusive WHY that so many of us seek felt so clear to me. Even when I had to make the dreaded call to the speaking agent that represented this client to say, I wasn’t going to make the stage I was surprised by how much my heart broke. It physically hurt to not be able to deliver.
Damn. I really, really love this industry. A flood of calls and messages from colleagues reinforced this, including calls from the client and follow-up texts from the speaking agent just to check in on me. My “replacement” speaker ended up being a dear friend, who kept me involved at every point in the speech and throughout his interactions with the audience (Thanks Seb – still feeling trauma bonded to you buddy!).
My days in the hospital felt full.
Full of some fear, for sure, but also full of love, joy, meaning, and a realization that my work was so much more to me than I had realized before.
I’m quite obviously replaceable (my fill-in won the audience over immediately with his message) but that doesn’t make me irrelevant.
To anyone (including myself) who has ever said that “no one lays on their deathbed wishing they had worked more,” I want to push back.
Struggling through to Friday, and praying for the opportunity for an early retirement is not what humans were built for.
We’re built for meaning.
We’re built for community.
We’re built for purpose.
And that’s something worth living for.