I have come to think that for all of us, but especially those with chronic, degenerative, life-threatening diseases, very many of our choices, big ones and little ones, can be framed as choices either to live or just fill time until we die.

At the Parkinson’s Support Group meeting while back, there were a number of people present who have had Deep Brain Stimulation surgery (see the June 4th post on this blog for a description of the procedure) to lessen the symptoms of their Parkinson’s.  When I thought about it after the meeting I concluded that those who chose the surgery were choosing life.  They were choosing not to simply bide their time as the disease progressed.  While people don’t die of Parkinson’s, the Disease often in some way plays a significant part in their death.

Of course not every decision we make is on the scale of whether or not to have DBS surgery.  With that said, I have begun to think that we can ask of very many of the decisions we make, are we choosing life, or simply filling time until we die.

I have been wondering lately if in our care giving and receiving mode, we are settling into a routine that is more about waiting and filling empty spaces of time than it is about living meaningfully. Every time we set foot out of the house to eat or shop or go to a public place, a meeting, worship service, to see our kids, to go for a ride, it is a major hassle.  We are always at risk for Mary Ann having some sort of problem that is much more difficult to handle away than at home.

When we eat out, it is often pretty hard to get food from the plate to its intended destination without some of the food taking a side trip to shirt or lap or chair or floor.  Just the logistics of getting to the table to eat in the first place is not always very easy.  When we attended that Parkinson’s meeting, there was unexpected intestinal activity that was pretty tough to deal with in a very inaccessible bathroom while a couple of folks we had enlisted to watch the door waited for what must have seemed like an eternity. Heading out for a drive of any distance can present the same sorts of problems.

It is so much easier to stay home and expand little tasks to fill more time than needed, to expand their importance and create the illusion that they are more satisfying and meaningful than they really are.

It is surprising how hard it can be when making a choice to determine which option is choosing life and which is just filling time.  For Mary Ann, watching television fills a void created by losing the ability to do most of the things she used to do for pleasure. However, watching television is also a very addictive life waster — something just to make the time go by more quickly.

There are times when watching a television program or DVD can be informative, mentally stimulating, very entertaining, refreshing and renewing.  There are also times when the television brings nothing to us, but rather consumes our lives, providing no real nourishment, just empty calories.

After procrastinating for a number of days, when finally we actually did do some flower planting outside, it seemed to be time we were living, not just waiting.  When we push ourselves to commit to something, a trip out, a visit, attending an activity, it is often life-affirming.  The temptation is to find some reason just to stay home, to do something familiar, something that in no way stretches us and stimulates us to live life to the fullest.

It is not as simple as concluding that staying busy is the way to fill our lives with meaning.  Busyness can be as life draining as watching reruns just to make the time go by.  For me, sitting alone, listening to a CD of an interesting piece of music, thinking and processing things mentally, calming my spirit, I find to be life-affirming.  Sitting on the deck, watching clouds and listening to birds is meaningful and productive time.  Quietly reading something that is engaging and mentally stimulating or spiritually nourishing is life-affirming for me.

Choosing to spend time with others is choosing life.  After a few days of talking about doing so, last week we called a couple of friends who, gratefully, were able and willing to say yes to a spontaneous invitation to go for a drive in the country.  The day was beautiful, the scenery was stunning.  We stopped at our favorite potter’s studio.  We stopped for ice cream in a picturesque small town in the area.  We tasted wine at a winery outlet, very tasty wine. (I know, ice cream and wine??)

Mary Ann chose to attend a salad luncheon with friends at church last Wednesday. While it was not expected of her, she insisted that we bring a salad – another foray into the kitchen.  Friends invited us to come down the block one evening for cookies and conversation.  The time together was not only entertaining but nourishing to some meaningful relationships.

It is very tempting to avoid the hassles and just stay home.  What was the catch phrase in those old Nike commercials: Just do it!  We have committed to a ten hour trip to Northern Illinois for a family celebration at the end of July.  From there we bring our oldest Granddaughter with us to Kentucky to spend time with our Daughter and her family.  We just received another wonderful thank you gift from the congregation I served. We provided a free place for the new Pastor to stay for a few months, waiting for his family to be able to move here.  The gift is a trip to our very favorite Bed and Breakfast in Arkansas — another long trip, but exceptionally life-affirming.

Choosing life is not always done in huge life-changing deciaions. Choosing life is often done one tiny decision at a time.  The cumulative effect of those little decisions determines whether we are living or just waiting until life is over.

Whether the choice is to undergo major surgery to provide hope of an improved quality of life, or to get out of the house and head down the block for cookies and conversation with friends, the choice is ours to make.  Either we choose life or just wait until it is over.

When given a choice, my hope is to have the courage to choose the option that is life-affirming rather than life-wasting, and, as the Serenity Prayer says, to have the wisdom to know the difference.

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