We've been busy little beavers around here (almost as busy as Justin, our beaver, ;) who's been working hard to dam up our creek). I have a lot of pictures to go through, but for now, I'm going to share a short story that I wrote for a magazine contest. It didn't win, so it's okay for me to share it elsewhere. My life and death topic was a lot to tackle in under 800 words. Perhaps I would have had better luck choosing a lighter story theme, but this was the topic that was calling to me, so I wrote about it.
I saw Uncle Bob in a coffee shop today. Which wouldn't have been a big deal, except that he's been dead for over ten years. Yet there he sat, sipping coffee like any living person. He smiled and waved me over. I did what anyone would: I ducked my head and left.
Yes, it was strange, but what difference did it make? It wasn’t like it was Darlene come back to life. I would have leapt over the tables to sit next to her. Even though the accident that ended her beautiful life happened over three months ago, I was still in so much denial; it would’ve been easier to accept seeing her alive again than to admit she was really gone. Gone. Oh God, why her? Tears burned behind my eyes but they never fell. I wanted to marry that girl.
I took my bike out of the garage. I knew I shouldn't, but I left my helmet on the shelf and immediately pumped the gas to speeds that beat my clothes around. What difference did it make? We’re all going to die sometime. But where riding used to make me feel so free, I now felt bound to this earth with the ball and chain of life. That was my problem. I was alive and Darlene was not.
I took the next corner faster than any sane person would, leaning into it with enough angle to let the bike spin out from underneath me if it wanted to, but it didn’t.
Another bend was coming up. Maybe I simply wouldn’t turn for this one. I came around the corner. Without warning, there was a man standing in the middle of the road. I swerved and clenched the brake without even thinking.
I was only a little surprised to see the jovial-looking face of my deceased Uncle Bob.
“What are you doing here?” I cried.
“Waiting for you to notice me.”
“Notice? You could have died… again.” I shook my head. This was too much. It would’ve been weird for a normal guy, but for me, I just couldn’t process it.
I left my motorcycle and walked to the guardrail to look over the edge. Serrated with a series of rock shelves, it would have been a guaranteed suicide.
“Steve, Darlene and I want you to live.”
“I am,” I lamented. “Every day I wake up hoping to be done here, and yet I still exist. I want what you and Darlene got. I want to die.”
Uncle Bob shook his head. “We experienced a transformation. We didn’t experience death. You, my dear nephew, are more dead now than we are.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You only die when you stop choosing to live.” My uncle walked over to share the view. “Steve, what did you love most about Darlene?”
My tears betrayed me by slipping from my eyes.
“She was …life’s biggest fan. She loved life so much, and I just—God, why am I still here?”
The corners of Uncle Bob’s eyes wrinkled with his smile.
“Because you still need to experience the beauty of your life.”
“What beauty? Why exist here, like some—some tree?” I pointed at a twisted little maple struggling to grow out of the side of the cliff. “Just trying to survive and waiting for our time to come?”
Uncle Bob reached a hand to my face and touched the tears wetting my cheeks.
“You were gifted with tears to mourn. A tree doesn’t have that, or laughter to rejoice with, or a heart to love with. These are gifts.”
“Great.” I wiped angrily at my tears. “I can experience a tragic heartache and tears at the same time.”
“The gifts are just tools. The beauty is what you can do with them. You are gifted with sight, so you can look at that tree. But only you can choose to see the tree for what it is. What is it to you?”
I studied the sorry little tree through my tears.
“It’s just a tree.”
“Stevey, you’ve been gifted with the ability to hear and touch, but only you can choose to actually listen or feel. The gift of life is like that. You can let it roll on by, or you can choose to experience its beauty.” Uncle Bob squeezed my shoulder. “You can just exist, or you can choose to be.”
The next thing I knew, a strange man was bending over me in the emergency room.
“Welcome to the world of the living,” he said. “That was a pretty nasty tumble you took with your bike. They tell me it could’ve been worse, but a little tree apparently broke your fall. You’ve cheated death.”
“There is no death,” I told the doctor. “I’ve just decided to live.”