You start dying slowly

You start dying slowly

You start dying slowly

if you do not travel,

if you do not read,

If you do not listen to the sounds of life,

If you do not appreciate yourself.

You start dying slowly

When you kill your self-esteem;

When you do not let others help you.

You start dying slowly

If you become a slave of your habits,

Walking everyday on the same paths…

If you do not change your routine,

If you do not wear different colours

Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.

You start dying slowly

If you avoid to feel passion

And their turbulent emotions;

Those which make your eyes glisten

And your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly

If you do not change your life

when you are not satisfied with your job,

or with your love,

If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,

If you do not go after a dream,

If you do not allow yourself, At least once in your lifetime,

To run away from sensible advice…

Pablo Neruda

I found this poem reminded me in so many ways of a mantra around which I have tried to conduct my life. I believe that having a positive and constantly questioning approach to how you conduct your life says a lot about what you get from it. If you allow yourself to fall into a depressive cycle, and I know for some this happens against their will and intention, but where you can control your surroundings, your mood cycles, how you can do things differently, then the reward is a renewal of life rather than ever decreasing circles.

I believe part of this is understanding that dying and death is a part of life, something which less infant mortality and greater life expectancy has obscured. We are no longer living around the normality of death as we once were and whilst some of the consequences of that are undoubtedly good – greater baby survival, longer and better lives for those with disabilities and longer life span more generally – it has perhaps made us less aware of the fact that death remains a 100% certainty. I find when discussing this with some people that they shy away from this simple fact, almost implying that somehow this time, they will defy death’s persistent calling. As a result it can result in a poor relationship with death and almost a ‘locked-in’ syndrome with life. In this situation we may stay rooted to routine and not engage in new discovery. The call of the Neruda poem is just that to ensure that we extend our horizons, maybe just in simple ways, by reading, by trying something new, by feeling passion, by ignoring sensible advice and taking risks, in short by engaging with life.

When I was diagnosed in 2012 it would have easy to think that engagement was no longer possible and indeed the mantra of ‘dying slowly’ could have dominated my thinking and, more tellingly, my actions. I do think that I engaged with the concept of dying a lot in the first 12 months, talking to people, reading about it, writing about it and discussing it with those I trusted. This was not a morbid pre-occupation with death at all. Indeed after a short while it enabled me to face the future, face living, with a more positive and engaged demeanour. I stayed in full time work for over three years, I continued trips to places important to me like Hong Kong and New Zealand and did not allow that nagging thought that I was dying slowly, which maybe was factually correct, to intrude into my actions, big and small. Whatever happens to be, today or tomorrow it’s a philosophy, a way of living which has not harmed my continued survival and whilst dying has crept a lot closer, doing and being myself, looking at possibilities, discovering new angles to life, keeps it a little at bay.

But I do not talk about this because I have an incurable disease but for everyone to think about, not ignore, nor put off until tomorrow. Too many people in and around my life have died since my diagnosis. Many unexpectedly and I guess some unprepared for it. People cannot then make sense of life because it seems so unfair, so random. For me, and I know this is a personal reflection, two things have been vital to my life. Firstly having that engagement with dying and death, so I understand it, do not fear it, has helped me turn back to life. But when I turn back to life I need to ensure I make the most of it and as the poem illustrates, simply and powerfully, why we need to engage with our life to keep it fresh, to maintain an interaction with life and living.

Readers of my recent blogs will know that these thoughts in my own life have been at their most challenging in recent months. I know my body has been struggling to keep the disease at bay but I also have seen ways I can engage help to stretch out my life further. I am getting better at accepting such help which in turn enables me to survive better, longer and again, the poem reminds me so powerfully, that if people are helping me I need to respond too. Being responsive, even given slightly revised expectations, I know I simply cannot do a lot things, remains a mantra which is vital to squeezing the most out of life. OK trips to New Zealand are no longer likely, running a marathon has been unlikely since 1969, I will have bad days, but in between I do not intend to die slowly, I will keep challenging my mind and my body to do as much as I can.

My photos:

6 thoughts on “You start dying slowly

  1. An interesting and provoking post Paul. Resonating with me as my eldest brother slowly succumbs to cancer and my sister’s husband becomes increasingly frail as inoperable liver and bowel cancer lead to marked physical deterioration. Both though have a positive approach to their situation although choosing to follow different pathways of treatment with my brother deciding to have only palliative care whilst Stan has repeating cycles of Chemotherapy.
    Whose is the dog Paul? They are wonderful companions and therapeutic adding a different dimension to the lives of owners or those who come into contact with them. Our dog is a therapy pet visiting the elderly in a local nursing home as well as regularly walking with adults with Autism and is a popular attendee at the local weekly Memory Cafe that Breda and other volunteers have set up.
    Is the picture of the cricket net at Tickhill? Must be the start of the cricket season is snowing!
    See you at Scarborough paul

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the comments, so many decisions to make along the way. Dog is Max which belongs to S at my son’s house though he does most of the walking and feeding. I get to see him most weeks which is more than enough. I have never been fond ofvanimals though got used to Max now.


  3. An touching poem – it probably speaks to us all and even more to those of us who are in the later years of life. Paul, the way you relate it to your experience in also very touching.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s