Last week, I wrote about Death and Cancer Loneliness and one woman’s approach to dying and saying good-bye. Our conversation reminded me of a book I read years ago, Chasing Daylight, How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life, by Eugene O’Kelly. A memoir about the last three and a half months of his life, Mr. O’Kelly decides how to spend his last days before succumbing to brain cancer.
I haven’t been able to get this book out of my mind. Rereading passages, I was instantly struck by Mr. O’Kelly’s discovery of the Perfect Moment. As a hard-driven corporate executive, Mr. O’Kelly traveled extensively and worked crazy, long hours before his diagnosis. Suddenly, his life changed:
What was a Perfect Moment? Usually it was a surprise, though sometimes I could see it unfolding. Sometimes I could help to engineer it, by creating the circumstances that would allow it to happen, but the best details about it were still a mystery until they happened. A Perfect Moment was a little gift of a moment or an hour or an afternoon. Its actual length was never the issue. The key thing was that you had to be open to a Perfect Moment. The radiation machine breaks down; one hour is going to come and go, an hour you can hardly spare; but then you accept that machines break down. You don’t get frustrated. You remember that it’s a waste of energy. You focus instead on something pleasing. The rhythm of your own breathing. The intricacy of the face of the person seated across from you. The beautiful poem your daughter wrote called “Traveler’s Fear.” The color of the sky out the window. …
My openness to Perfect Moments, I realized, may have been my own end-around at getting to consciousness, to the present moment. And I hadn’t seen it.
At the end of his life, Mr. O’Kelly had discovered mindfulness. Before his diagnosis, he had been too busy. Now, he felt “heightened awareness frequently.” He was becoming “sensitive simply to life itself.”
I read this book several years ago, before my own cancer diagnosis. Rereading it now, I realize it really isn’t about death so much as it is about choosing how to live. It’s a choice we all have to make.
Survival > Existence,