Friday, April 24, 2009

To Live For

I feel most librarian-y when a book order comes in and I rip open the box, hurl the packing paper aside, and dig in to the titles like a kid with a Christmas present. Especially when there's one buzzy title that I am looking for so I can beat out my bookish library aides for the honor of getting first dibs.

I have read a lot in the last couple of months about a YA novel called If I Stay. Written by Gayle Forman, it's gotten the kind of pre-publication buzz in magazines' book sections I don't hear too often for a writer not already known to a base of readers. Heck, it's already been optioned for a movie to be directed by Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke. Before the book was even available for purchase! Color me interested.

No-brainer, then, that when I saw its sky-blue cover in a box this week I grabbed it. And in two sittings, devoured it. It's not perfect, and it's not going to be the next Harry Potter or Twilight or anything, but it's very moving and subtly poses the kind of deep questions only the best books for young minds do.

It's haunting me. As a book largely about death and a teenage girl's decision whether or not to fight to survive after a devastating car accident, it's making me think about my own mortality in a time in my life where I've been seeing death around every corner. With Jason's mom's situation seeming so grim last week, I'd already been thinking a lot about this question: at what point would I just stop fighting? How sick, how in pain would I have to be before I would ask my family to let me go? And then this book comes along, and BLAMMO! I am ready to plan my own funeral.

When Jason's mom went on the ventilator the very first time, we talked about end-of-life issues. Jokingly, I tell him that I am not afraid to die and feel ready to go because at least that way I could get caught up on my sleep. But then I seriously told both him and my mom my wishes and went so far as to print out a living will and fill it out. But then it sat on my desk, the only things keeping it from being recognized in the state of Kentucky being a blank space for my signature and the lack of a notary seal. What if my mind changes? What if "Let me go, don't let me suffer" becomes "By any means necessary"? Or what if I decide I want dramatic life-preserving measures, only to later find my mind trapped in an agonized body with no means of communicating to my family that I want to let go?

I don't think I am ruining If I Stay for anyone if I say that Mia's (the main character's) choice comes down to measuring what and who she has to live for against what kind of life her broken body can give her. In the novel, she can watch everything that is happening to her because she has become disassociated from her body; she can walk around her hospital room, wander to the waiting room, and hear every word the doctors, nurses, and her friends and family say. She also experiences flashbacks where she lsees her childhood acted out before her eyes. Just when it looks like she has made a choice, she experiences a memory that makes her waffle, or sees how someone she loves is reacting to her almost lifeless body, or hears a doctor's prognosis, and she questions whether or not she should stay. Yes, it's just as heartwrenching as it sounds.

So it may seem a grim and morbid blog question to post on a gorgeous spring day, but maybe it will cause us all to have one of those Oprah life-giving moments. Here it is: if you found yourself in Mia's situation or one like it, where would your flashes take you? What are some of the things that would make you stay?

I'll get us started down this dark path. Because this week, that's how I roll.

There are my friends and family, of course. That goes without saying, doesn't it? But like Emily in Our Town, it's really the little things. "Clocks ticking...And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths...and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you!" (Sob.) Here's my list of things to live for, the list of scenes I see when I think about the joys of my life:

1. Getting emotional while reading fine moments in literature, like Emily's monologue at the end of Our Town.

2. Tucking Ainsley in at night after she's asleep and kissing her on the dewy, lavender-lotion-scented dip at the nape of her neck.

3. Trying to unravel the mysteries of Lost (I swear, I will be so mad if I go before I get to see that last episode. Heaven better have HDTV.)

4. Unibroue.

5. Turning my face up to the warmth of the summer sun.

6. Bright, breezy spring afternoons spent with the windows open and James Taylor playing while I cook.

7. Running.

8. Slow dancing with the guy I love.

9. Watching sunrises. And sunsets. Whether from a mountain or a beach or my own backyard.

10. Listening to music. All kinds--from my little girl singing a hymn, to Susan Boyle singing "I Dreamed a Dream", to a symphony orchestra, to a loud rock band.

Feel morbid enough to chime in today? What would keep you in the fight?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What makes life worth living? Hmmm

Sharing ipod headphones with the girls and watching their eyes light up to music I love.

Coloring books and a new box of crayons.

A crackerjack husband who plans surprise weekend getaways to see *Neko Case* at a beer joint. The "dark angel of spellbinding imagery" still plays beer joints! Cranky, I have to send you a CD of hers. I heart Neko - and I'll bet a fiver you will too.

Starting off the trip with the best coffee I've ever had from a local coffeeshop owner.

Driving home from work on a warm sunny afternoon with the windows down.

Paying off student loans. Woo hoo!