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  • Paul D. Wilke

Three Years Ago


Three years ago today, I woke up from a medically-induced coma after fighting and almost losing a battle with bacterial meningitis. It seems oddly fitting that my brush with mortality would end on Halloween. Three years have passed and everything is more or less back to normal. I don't even think about it much anymore. I've recovered almost 100%; the only lasting effect is a left hand that randomly goes numb every now and then for no apparent reason. Nerve damage, I suppose. No big deal. At least everything else, including my mind, works fine. So I shake out that left hand and get back to whatever I was doing.

This day has become one I silently commemorate to myself, call it my own personal Remembrance Day. On the first anniversary, I ran a half marathon in Brasilia. Damn, that felt good! Last year, I went out for dinner with the two most important people in my life, my wife and son. That felt even better.

Not to be overly dramatic, though probably a little cliche, I also view that waking up as a reawakening of sorts, a second chance to do better and be better going forward.

As I creep into middle age, I realize now that my body, like all bodies, is undergoing that slow and inevitable decline that ends at the cemetery. The illness gifted me the opportunity to remember how tenuous life can be. No matter how healthy, wealthy, or prosperous our lives may seem, it can all come crashing down at a moment's notice. In fact, it will do just that for all of us someday. For anyone who has read my blog, this will sound familiar. It's a recurring theme in my writing, partly to remind myself, but also to remind everyone else as well.

Before the illness, I understood death only as an abstraction that happened to other people. Not to me, never to me, could such a thing happen. Of course, while I knew I would die someday, that day was in the remote future and would never be today. I lived as if I'd live forever. The myth of eternal youth. When we're young, that's a good myth to live by, necessary even. Why linger in the shadow of what may not happen for decades? Myths are good sometimes.

Live as if...

And so I did, at least until reality came and shattered the myth.

These days I'm able to catch myself before going too far down the anxiety rabbit hole. That was the old me. My perspective shifted three years ago. I'm still the same person I was before, stuck with the same limitations and quirks that have always afflicted me, but I'm a little wiser now, a lot more mellow, and better equipped to deal with the challenges life throws at me. The pinprick stresses of daily life still get to me - of course - though nothing like before.

"After all,"

I ask myself,

"In the big scheme of things, "What does this little problem matter?"

It doesn't, not really, and not in any way worth worrying about. Or to put it another way, at least I'm alive to have stress and anxieties.

Still, as the years pass and the memories of what happened fade, the nagging suspicion creeps back that I'm somehow blowing it again. Perhaps I'm falling back into old ways of thinking and of taking things for granted.

So, this personal anniversary, quietly celebrated, is also a way to take stock, to remember, to understand, to reset, to brace myself for the inevitable calamities that eventually befall all of us. A little momento mori is good for the soul. I lived long enough on autopilot; I wasted enough time sleepwalking through life.

No more.

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