People around me were becoming ill and dying, although I was still a young woman. I attended a church in San Francisco during the 1980’s and watched as fellow parishioners became gaunt, were marked by the red blooms of Kaposi’s sarcoma, and seemed to age decades in a matter of months.
The AIDS epidemic ravaged the city, gutted families and decimated dreams. We all lost people we loved and are losing them still. According to the W.H.O., HIV/AIDS is the sixth leading cause of death in the world today of people of all ages and the leading cause of death of women of childbearing age.
I was lucky. At that early age I lost the illusion of my own permanence. The reality of life’s ephemeral nature hit me forcefully—stopped me dead in my tracks, in fact. I was a single mother, and my life had been roaring by as I struggled to keep up with the daily demands of holding down a job, providing for the children, keeping food on the table, monitoring homework and managing all the chores of modern life. I saw that it would all race by in a blur if I didn’t do something to slow it down, and that I would regret that, when my time drew to a close, whenever that might be. Suddenly there were so many precious moments to attend.
I learned to use time more wisely. I had to be more selective. I could choose. I could stop being as reactive as I had been, and stop allowing other people to wind my clock. I could decide how to respond. Over-stimulation and sensory overload are sure-fire ways to blot out life. I had to slow down my mind.
I watched less TV. I began to eat food with greater attention, more slowly. I took long walks during my lunch hour. I got up extra early in the morning to savor the quiet and think. I began to exercise more creativity, to think outside the box. I quit smoking. I watched and listened more and spoke less. I quit drinking coffee. My energy level, blood sugar and emotional life smoothed out.
Carlos Castaneda, through his character Don Juan, wrote that Death is our friend. When we live with the daily awareness of our mortality, we become more fully alive. When we move into the slow lane, we stop a lot of our nonsense and see beauty where there once was noise.