As I get older, I consider mortality a lot more, though never more than I did when I was 26 years old and learned that I had a chronic immune disorder.
Prior to getting this disease I felt I was a pretty tough person. I went to boxing classes twice a week. I worked out. Sure, I had some allergies, but until my long slog into illness I didn’t get sick that often. I spent a lot of time thinking about the apocalypse, and how I’d manage to survive – a badass with a machete and a shotgun – while the world collapsed around me.
I don’t think so much about surviving the post-apocalypse anymore.
As a type 1 diabetic, I require four or five shots of synthetic insulin a day in order to survive. If I miss these shots for more than about 48 hours, I will go into a coma and die. If I don’t time these shots correctly and overdose, I could go into a coma and die. If I get stuck out somewhere without a way to increase my blood sugar should I take too much insulin, I will go into a coma and die. If I’m traveling and my insulin gets too hot, or too cold, and is destroyed, I will die.
Death is very close.
Being that close to death all the time changes the way you think about life. It’s why I feel such an affinity for other people who’ve been through it, or who are going through it. My spouse is a cancer survivor. He had just finished the last of his radiation a few months before we met. We understood life in a way that only people who’ve stared at death really do. You appreciate the little things a lot more. You constantly feel like you’re running on borrowed time.
Most of all, you get how precious life is, and you do your damnedest to hold onto it.
In reading this post from Steven Spohn over at Wendig’s site, I was reminded of this again. I may have all the appearances of being able-bodied, but when people talk about tossing out people for being defective, I can tell you that somewhere on there, no matter how far down, I am on that list. I know that because before I got sick, I put people like me on that list. I believed in “survival of the fittest.” What I didn’t realize is that “fittest” is a lie. The “fittest” don’t survive. There are some truly ridiculous animals out there (pandas??? Narwhales??). Those who survive are the most adapted to their particular niche. That is all. They are not stronger or smarter or cooler or better built or more logical. In fact, some of the world’s most illogical animals continue to survive (PANDAS! Sorry, I just saw a documentary about pandas, and jesus). Life isn’t actually a competitive game at all. Life is, instead, an experience. Life is a fluke, maybe. Or perhaps consciousness is what drives the creation of the universe. We could be everything or nothing. But what we are is alive, in this time and place, and that in itself, considering all the things that had to happen to get us here, is extraordinary.
I don’t believe in the callous attitude that life is garbage, that we’re all expendable, that existence is meaningless and we should throw everyone who can’t row the boat overboard. Because really, is rowing the boat everything we need to survive? What else does it take, to make the world? To build a society? Who do we become, when we choose who lives, and who dies, who is precious, and who is expendable?
In many other times, I’d be dead. My doctor told me that if I’d been wheeled into the ICU in the shape I was in 20 years ago, I’d be dead. But here I am, writing this post, and writing stories for you. Does my life have value? Or should I be a plot point in someone else’s story? And if you say, “Oh, Kameron, we believe you’re a human,” then where do you draw the line? At what point will you say, “It’s OK to throw that other person under the bus, because they can’t walk, or talk, or because keeping them alive is just so expensive!” Where is your line, for which lives matter? And who are you to make that call? Unless you have the ability to bear children, you do not get to say what lives come into the world, and what lives don’t, because they are not of your body. Instead, they are part of your society, individuals who rely on one another to survive. We are all here, with are our special little quirks and our individual needs, and when you draw a line, I know, I have seen that line move. I have seen how we say, “Oh, just this one. Then that one. Then one more.”
No one would ask me, “Is living worth it?” because they don’t know what I have to do to ensure I keep living. I can tell you: some days it drives me fucking crazy. Some days I want to give up. But that’s my choice. It’s not a choice for a list. And if you are writing people who, like me, must make that choice every day: “Do I take the shot or not? Do I live today or not?” remember that we don’t exist as a plot point in someone else’s story.
More often than not, we are far too busy making our own.