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28 August 2008

Day 6 :: Be totally devoted

Scott Patti,

I just wanted you to know that I wanted to write something for your 37 Days countdown to Life is a Verb, but I just couldn't.

Every time I started to think about it, I started crying, and I just can't go there. My mom died when I was 20 and she was 42, and for the next 22 years I worried that I, too, would die at the same age.

The year 2000 was a long one for me -- the start of a new millennium, but also the beginning of my fated 42nd year. On April 30th 2001, I turned 43, heaved a sigh of relief, and decided to stop living my life as if there was a death sentence hanging over me, but rather as if I would live eternally.

It is surprising what that decision has meant to me. Because I have all the time in the world, I can rush around if I need to without resenting it (too much, at least), but I can also stop and admire a goldfinch because, hey, I have all the time in the world!

-Scott Walters

I thought I was the only person who did that, who waited for that fateful year. My father died at 53, so I've been waiting a long time--as did Scott--to see what would happen when I turned 53, with the same sense of dread as Scott described. That won't come until the year 2012 for me, but I understood immediately what Scott meant and could image the feeling of freedom when he survived his 42nd year.

What if living as if you only have 37 days actually means living as if you will live forever?

Recently, I received another email, from someone else, a woman who was in a recent training I facilitated and who stopped me cold in a brainstorming session when I was flip charting for the group--"Ebullient!" I heard someone offer as a description of their feeling in a particular situation. "Ebullient?" I turned slowly to face the group. "Who on earth said 'ebullient?'" And then I heard her offer what she knew I needed: "Two l's!" she shouted, "two l's!"

She wrote:


I have not been able to do this. I've thought about it every day since you offered us the challenge on your blog, but the thought of only having 37 days--it's too much to contemplate. My best friend in all the world, Connie, died of lung cancer 12 years ago. I know what her last 37 days were like. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy and certainly not on anyone I loved. I wouldn't put my sons or my mother and father or my brother or my dear, dear, dear Scott through that for anything.

But if we put a lot of fantasy into it and pretend I would be able to do something, well, I'd work for about half of it. I love my job and I love the people I work for. I would get as many things settled and filed and straightened and taken care of as I could. I'd let them take me to lunch and fuss over me. All I ever wanted was to be "special" and to be helpful. This job lets me be special by being helpful--a perfect combination. I would miss my beloved physicists terribly.

I would spend time with the lovely Leanna. The second best friend I've ever had. I would give her my beads. And Susie. My best friend in second grade. I would give her back her mother's necklace that she gave to me. I loved her mother almost more than my own.

And I would spend hours and hours and hours in the arms of my beloved Scott. And I would cry and cry and cry. No ebullience--not at the thought of how much pain this would cause him. Not knowing how short our time has been together--how late we found each other. The thought of leaving him comfortless is beyond comprehension. I know this kind of devotion and need are not much accepted in this day and age. But there it is. We are who we are. And we are totally devoted. I don't suppose there are more things I would do. I would not change much of who I am because time is short. I pretty much do the best I can now.

-Laura Walters

The two parts of this couple both wrote, not knowing the other had.

From them, I learned that others share my fears, that I can liberate myself from those fears, that we all need to find someone special to give our beads to, that we should be proud of being totally devoted.

And that we're all of us pretty much doing the best we can now.

My thanks to Scott and Laura. Life is a Verb will be hand delivered. Let's pick a time and place. We can grab a coffee and eat some wheat-free, vegan, free-trade, organic spelt scones and bother the mimes at the corner of Haywood and Battery Park and be utterly and completely ebullient.

If you'd like to answer the question, "What would I be doing today if I only had 37 days to live?", email it to me with your mailing address and a photo. Those essays posted before the official publication date of Life is a Verb on September 2nd will receive a signed copy of the book!


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Wonderful, just wonderful. I know that my 37 days piece bears no relation to the actual, true-life experience of last days that I had 2 years ago with my cousin. Yet I suspect that there are as many ways we can leave as there are times to leave. Who knows what mine will be like? Or yours?

I just love reading these gems--and I wish I knew Laura and Scott beyond their posts, though I am so glad to have this much.

This just amazing to me. My father died when I was ten and he was 50. At the time my sister had just graduated from high school. As I got closer to 50 I began to wonder if my fate was sealed, too. Interestingly enough I at age 50 had a son who happened to be ten and a daughter who was very close to graduating from high school. Age 50 has come and past and I look at this as new territory and hope that I can make the most of what time I have that my father did not. I had no idea that this same thing was happening to others.

Oh dear, I'm afraid I've made it sound like my dear Leanna is second best! I meant that she was second in time order, not quality. Thank you for this opportunity to remind myself about what's important.

Hi Jan, in a way, we do know each other, don't we?

I'm 58 and still hoping to find a "Scott" - to know what that "total devotion" stuff really feels like. I just know I'd like it. And I think that "ebullient" is the best of all possible descriptions for the joy you have found with/in each other. I hope for years and years of ebullient, heart-touching happiness to you both!

how cool to get these two letters, written separately and unknown by each other. they sound like two wonderful people who have come together to be an extraordinary couple. i also wanted to say that everyone i've known who lost a parent at a young age has had the feeling that they may die at that age too. and i have heard some of them say that once that particular year had come and gone that the time after that felt like a bonus and was more enjoyable to them. thanks for sharing these two letters and a beautiful story.


This is brilliant stuff. I'd forgotten what a brilliant writer you are. My parents are alive, my step parents are alive and i lost my grandparents when I was too young to remember (conciously, at least). So, death hasn't quite touched me yet like it has others perhaps.

But I do know everything that everybody thinks matters...really doesn't matter. We spend too much sweating the small stuff and forget to be who we are, not what everybody wants us to be.

As such I increasingly find life surreal and amusing, in the nicest possible way, and I lose myself in a desire to drown in meaningless jokes and wit.

Which you are particularly good at too. So....over to you, Harmony..

with love, the man who once gave you a ted (head) ache,

ted baker

each of the 37 days pieces have touched me and im so grateful that you are posting them.

these two? touched the soft tender spots and tears came instantly...

i dont know how to put those feelings in words yet...maybe it will take all 37 days to me to say what my raw heart wants to say

Oh, Laura Sue, yes, we do know each other: I just re-read your letter and must tell you that my cousin (10 yrs. younger than I am, and like a little sister since she was an only child and I have one brother, no sisters--by birth, anyway) also had lung cancer. A non-smoker, she was diagnosed after a seizure because it had already met-s to her brain, but she fought it like crazy for almost 3 years. Terminal diagnosis in March '06 and died about 137 days later. I understand the need to put things in order, as you say you would do, AND it drove me wild to see her so obsessed. She had her papers in order, knew who would buy her car, her house spiffed up and sold to the neighbor she liked, but she was exhausted and grim as she went about it. Her dad died in the midst of it all, yet she had done all this and more to save him trouble after her death. It was then painfully ironic and so achingly sad that she died w/o grieving his death (her assessment), as well as w/o making peace w/ her mother. What I learned--one of the lessons--is that we all have the right to our own death, to do it our own peculiar way. (I guarantee mine will be peculiar in ways I cannot even imagine now!) Her capacity issues, from the 'showers of tumors in her brain', made all of this exceedingly challenging.

Sorry, Patti, to go on so much about this, but it is inextricably linked for me w/ your 37 days question.

And, Mary, all I can say is: "ditto"! (As my grandmother used to say so charmingly, LONG before that radio guy corrupted it!)

Stopping now. Best to all.

oh, yes.... i can relate... like waiting for the other shoe to drop (me not living in the moment) this was a good one ms patti.... like they all are. "good for today" is fitting for me morning. yes. it changes, my learning from your writings. you bring up so many emotions for us all, don't you? it's ok, we shouldn't run from them nor dwell on them. thanks, amy ramblin rose

Am I the only one feeling lament for Laura writing "dear Scott" and "beloved Scott" and about her feelings about the relationship in her comment but Scott does not write anything about Laura or the relationship he has with her in his?

dear ranie - I'm sure Scott can answer this better than I can - but just to let you know - his note to me was a personal email explaining why he wasn't able to write an essay. After I got Laura's essay, I asked to post his note also. Had he written an essay in response to the question, I'm sure you'd find that devotion fully expressed...

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