This post is a little heavy, I’ll grant you, and when I clicked on this Ted Talk I was expecting an uplifting speech about what we should enjoy in our short little lives, what we should prioritize, what life is all about and how to enjoy it to the utmost. I was not expecting a video about palliative care and how to treat the dying.
But once I started watching, I just couldn’t leave the page. What I couldn’t escape was BJ Miller’s teary eyes as he spoke out with a strong, unwavering voice mastered by someone who has faced the worst and fears nothing, someone who has been afraid and now accepts fear as a part of life, a part of death, to the extent that the fear in fact evaporates. He is a patient. He suffers. That’s life.
BJ Miller sees death in a way I have never seen it. (Oh God this really is morbid… stick with me). None of us ever believe it will actually happen to us, or to anyone we know. We can be told that an illness is terminal but we will always always still root for the chemo, the drugs, the surgery, that we will always always see as a cure, rather than a treatment. Here in the UK, we all see the NHS (despite our bitching and moaning) as an angel, a hero, the magic that can always fix us when we become broken.
But BJ Miller is right. Our life is a snowball, and it melts in our hands.
‘Parts of me died early on and that’s something we can all say one way or another’.
This is the most powerful sentence I have heard in a long time and I had never considered it before. His legs, his left forearm, they are gone, permanently. They have expired. My childhood is dead. Yours probably is too. I will never be a teenager again, I will never enjoy the terrifying disaster of a first kiss again. All these tiny deaths that I had not even noticed. Things end, all the time, constantly, the cold water dripping through our fingers with every passing second. So I need to be more BJ Miller. I need to accept it. I need to enjoy the frozen cold solid in my palm instead of chasing the liquid droplets that are impossible to catch.
‘Patient – it’s a good word, it means ‘one who suffers’. I guess we’re all patients.’
And that’s okay. Because until we die, there are always parts of us that live, that function, that don’t suffer, and this solid snowball is the miracle that we can actually close our fingers around.