By Ethan Maurice | May 21st, 2019
I don’t believe that I’ll live to grow old.
It’s not that I think I’m going to die young or burn out before thirty because I’m living so hard or something. I just know all too well that life could end at any time.
When I was sixteen years old, a mosquito bite nearly killed me. A few weeks after this unbeknownst bite, I went to bed with a piercing headache. If it wasn’t for my mom’s investigation of “strange noises,” I would have been dead the next morning.
This mosquito, it transferred a virus to me. A virus that infected the fluid surrounding my brain, causing it to swell and squeeze. The result: many grand mal seizures, four days in a coma, a stroke, and a damaged brain.
I was fortunate and over the following two years, made a full recovery. But during them, my struggles constantly reminded of how close to the edge of life I had gone. Every time I lost my train of thought, every word that wouldn’t come out mid-sentence, every time I was told, “It’s alright, Ethan” when I stopped a conversation dead in its tracks, was further proof of life’s fickleness.
Insight has different degrees of intensity and nothing makes the fact that you will actually die one day more evident than nearing and peering over the edge of your own life. To be reminded of that experience by the shortcomings of brain damage many times a day, every day, for years… it drove my understanding of impermanence deep.
We all live under the assumption that we have a full life ahead of us. Death from anything other than old age is seen as a tragedy — as time stolen from us. This is a fallacy, for life can only be cut short from the expectation that it is supposed to be long.
After my brush with death, I could no longer project my future onto the near-century-long timeline I used to. I understood that we’re moving blind and backward into the future.
How much time lies ahead for each of us is truly unknown.
This awareness resulted in two major shifts:
1. Knowing that life could end at any time, I could no longer justify putting off what was most important.
Now was the time to act, as a later opportunity may not exist. Naturally introverted, this understanding was a shove from the sidelines socially. It was the reason I chose to ride a bicycle across the United States during a college summer break instead of getting “direct patient care experience” to improve my chances of acceptance to medical school. It was also the reason I chose to pursue something more meaningful to me than medical school.
Understanding the curtains could drop at any time spurred my highest highs, adventures around the globe, and the most wonderfully obsessive work I’ve ever done: helping others come alive through my blog and letters. I have spent my days in ways those who believe in stockpiling savings first would say are irresponsible, but align much better with the unsettling truth of our human condition.
2. I found greater value in every moment.
In simple terms of supply and demand, the less the supply the greater the value. Is this not true for time as well?
Consider the shift undergone when diagnosed with a terminal illness — one moment someone believes they have decades ahead, the next they discover they may only have months. Cataclysmic news for a being, but not for their following months.
For, the less time you think you have, the more value your time has. And with increased value of time comes increased presence, awareness, and a heightened sense of what’s important. Thus, the ultimate result of not thinking you have a lifetime ahead of you is something magnificent:
A higher quality of life.
I’m not saying anyone wants a terminal diagnosis. But I am saying that we all have one, and that to recognize this is perform a sort of alchemy — transmuting this moment from a given to a gift.