In the car the other night, my twelve year old daughter told me that she hates the term YOLO (you only live once), in part because people use it as an excuse to do and say stupid things.
That’s true, I said immediately. She popped out of the car to meet her friends for an evening run. That’s really True, I thought and kept thinking as her words reverberated.
I am a little more than four years past a cancer diagnosis. Apart from the obvious ramifications of having that oversize shoe dropped, cancer survivors are often pressured outright and by implication to live a life worthy of envy. Here’s a partial list:
Live life to the fullest
Don’t take a single moment for granted
Live each day as if it’s your last
Appreciate what we have because you never know when it will be gone
Tomorrow may never come
While you’re busy yolo-ing, don’t forget that your yolo just might be a heck of a lot shorter than you once imagined
While there is certainly a modicum of wisdom in these maxims, but they also carry a common theme.
There are a whole lot of angry points to make about the pressure to both survive cancer AND to become an inspiration, about the guilt that comes when I just want to take an entire day for granted by staying in my pajamas and watching a Law and Order marathon, about being forced onto a path I didn’t choose.
Scared? Yeah, I’ve been scared. I’ve spent days, weeks, months, and the better part of a year worried about my beeline toward a premature grave. I’ve even watched it happen to my friends: good, deserving women younger than I. But somewhere in the dissolution of immortality, while I was busy trying to live the lives that they couldn’t, or the life that I didn’t, that heard that quiet “pssst,”
Do you want to frantically live today, cramming in every possible experience, just because it might be gone tomorrow?
Allowing fear to dictate your life is to live in constant scarcity. No matter what, it will never be enough — not enough time, not enough love, not enough health. I grew up in scarcity and I’ve consciously worked to unpack so as not to repeat that with my own kids. Perhaps that is what makes me so sensitive to this ubiquitous fear-based philosophy. Isn’t this “living each day like it’s your last” idea pretty similar to hoarding?
Of course I’m still scared of the cancer coming back and killing me before I’m good and ready. I’m scared something will happen to my kids, to my husband, that we will lose all our money and not have a house anymore, that Israel will use nuclear weapons on Palestine, and the list goes on. To pretend I live a fear-free life would be preposterous.
But to make that my raison d’être? That’s just letting fear win, an excuse as my daughter said, to do something stupid. The hard, but liberating truth is that we’ll never outrun the inevitable. You chose what comes in between.
(besides, I’m not even sure I accept the “yolo” premise, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.)