It is said that cats have nine lives.
It is natural for snakes to shed their skin over and over so that they can grow.
Many critters and creatures morph through different life stages -- tadpoles become frogs; caterpillars become butterflies.
Many of us think, that as humans, we have only one life and one journey to travel that will inevitably lead to only a single destination -- our death. I cannot say how many times I have heard people say "Life sucks and then you die." Perhaps it was said in jest but nonetheless, I think they are powerful words, and oh, so negative. It is not a comment that I agree with. Just no way!
I have already lived many different lives. I have shed skins in my life, my family roles and my careers many times over. As a transgender woman, I have morphed my outer shell more than once. No matter how many times I may have felt down, or sad or unhappy, I learned and accepted that each time, it would lead me to change something; another life; a new skin; a rejuvenated body. Perhaps each of these changes that brought me a new "life' also was accompanied by a little "death" on my journey. Looking back now, I sense that my life, and perhaps yours too, can comprise of many little lives, and also many little deaths.
It's not often that both my daughter and my ex recommend a book for me to read. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande is the one most recently that has come to me via this path. This was not an easy read, but one that has had a deep impact on me. It is about aging and dying. It is about our culture's view and practices on prolonging life with medical interventions versus the challenge of accepting the natural end of our days with dignity and the last vestiges of "quality" each of us get to define for ourselves. I often needed to stop to let the tears flow down my cheeks as I finished reading.
Through my tears I began to understand that in this book about dying, Gawande teaches us about living. He shares the vital questions of life and well-being and clearly states that the answers to the questions matter "not just at the end of life but all along the way."
He shares the questions that he learned from the people he met in hospice.
What do you understand your prognosis to be?
What are your concerns and fears?
What is most important to you?
What kind of trade-offs are you willing to make based on the answers?
As I read and cried, part of me was looking forward as part of me was looking back. I cannot deny that now in my late 60s the thoughts of the end -- my end -- flit through my mind. I can feel the beginning of the aging process in ways that become harder to deny. Hell, my kids are in their thirties, and even over 20 years ago when they could out-fake me on the basketball court, I knew my hand-eye coordination had slowed down. Back then it was easy to deny. Last summer I was aware that my regular 20-30 mile bicycling rides were a bit slower and a bit more difficult to get up the hills. Even when I mentioned this to my PCP at my annual physical I expected the answer he gave me. "You're getting older," he said so matter-of-factly. I knew it was coming but still did not like it.
However I realized that five years ago, I asked myself those questions and had the following answers:
I understood and accepted I was transgender.
I was afraid of losing everyone and everything.
Being true to myself.
Living my truth even if I lost everyone and everything.
Yes, I learned that those questions were really hard to answer just to live, let alone when my time comes to an end. Gawande teaches us that these are the questions about our well-being and our quality of life. These are questions we must face alone, and then share with those close to us; our partners and our families. I have learned we often avoid answering these, especially the trade-off question. It can be the "whose life am I living" question that we desperately get muddled down in. Can we face our fears? Can we make the trade-offs and really know what our best quality of life will be for us and us alone? Perhaps the older one gets, the easier it is to answer. For those around us, can we learn that our role is to support each other's answers? I hope so. I hope this is also true no matter where on life's journey one may be.
Perhaps I am cat-like and land on my feet after falling from great heights. I know I have shed my skins many times and morphed myself into who I am today, and am still morphing into who I may be tomorrow.
I have changed so much during my lifetime, and I suspect I will probably change some more. I look back on each of my many little lives and each my many little deaths and celebrate this journey I have been on. Being true to myself has provided me the quality of life I always dreamed about. Being Mortal has provided me a fresh lens to appreciate the entire journey, wherever it goes.
Wherever you are in your life, I suggest and invite you try to answer the question posed above. You may have many lives to choose from.
Grace Stevens is a transgender woman who transitioned at the age of 64 and holds a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology. She is a father of three, grandparent of two, athlete, advocate and author of No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth, an intimate memoir of her personal struggle to transition and live her true life authentically as a woman. Grace is available for speaking about authentic living with Living on-TRACK, and Gender Variance Education and Training. Visit her website at: http://www.graceannestevens.com/. Follow Grace on Twitter: www.twitter.com/graceonboard .