Mhairi’s decision

My friend was going through a tricky time and as a result, our Skype conversation was peppered with new-found wisdom and quotes from books. In the midst of new age mantras and whatnot my friend happened to mention a guy who worked out how many days he would have left to live if he lived until the life expectancy of his country. It was only around 10,000. He went out and bought that many beads and every morning diligently put one bead into a smaller container. This made him value each single day.

My initial reaction was shock at how few days he had left, as I had imagined (although perhaps up until this moment I had never really imagined this) that I had thousands, loads of thousands, like maybe tens of thousands. The thought that this man had way less than even 20,000 was sobering. 20,000 doesn’t seem like that big of a number. And that was if he was lucky. He may be shot tomorrow or be one of the unlucky 1 in 3 to have cancer and not survive it. It seems like congratulations are in order if you even make it, scrape over the threshold of the average life expectancy, pant into your final days with some sort of sense of you’ve made it. Against all odds. But even then, even then dodging death like bullets at the front line, even if he managed to cut out his cigarettes and cut down on his salt intake, even then he only had around 10,000 days left. You can see 10,000 things and not be crazed. You can quite easily imagine 10,000.

I had a teacher in high school who was collecting ring pulls from cans of soda so that when he reached 1 million he would put them in a container and his wife would be able to show her pre school class what one million looked like. I often wonder whether he ever got there. He was miles off in 1994 that’s for sure.

Anyway, a million is quite hard to imagine. To get your head around. Possibly I’ve never seen a million anything. Except for something abstract like a million rain drops perhaps thrashing down onto the ocean. But nothing physical, nothing tangible.

So, the fact that life and days were not such an inconceivable number was in itself an eye opener to me. I struggle with the term middle aged and don’t, absolutely don’t consider myself there yet. Although some my age do. Middle aged. Half way there perhaps. Again, if we’re lucky.

Then there was the time when I was getting into a bath and was thinking about when I was older, and a woman, that I would dress in pencil skirts, head scarves and gloves. I would always be lipsticked and perfumed (if possible by Chanel) I would be a manicured and pedicured high heeled vamp. I often thought of this as I bathed. Carefully considering all the accessories and whatnot that would come into play. It was with serious shock then when one day in this reverie I realized that I was 30 and when exactly did I plan to start reinventing my wardrobe? Time has a way of creeping up like willow the wisp, like a deep fog stealthy in the night and things. It can envelop you and you can suddenly find yourself someone who says things like “I always wanted to be a singer and never got round to it” or “we’ve been here 20 years and I still haven’t paved the outside porch”. These things are uttered everyday. By people just like me and you.

This came as a shock to me as I considered myself a pretty aware person. I’ve studied mime and worked out sequences of 400 moves to make a cocktail. I watch people and how they walk. I notice that most people walk with their right foot slightly turned out. That’s how observant I am. I am 100% on it when it comes to awareness. Except when I’m not. And it seems perhaps in the story of my life I had loosened my grip on the reigns.

In some ways I am extreme, bold and focused and in other areas I have dropped the ball. Like when I was a runner as a teenager and ran a relay race and ran with the baton right off the track. I sprinted so fast that I forgot to turn left at the corner and lost the race for my team. I have a lot of get up and go, but perhaps I have lost track of the track.

This bead thing was just the trick to get me back on my track. To ask myself the big questions about life, obviously, but also about my day to day. Am I living my day to day as if it was my last day? That’s the sort of thing I was thinking about.

I thought about it a lot and spent days thinking about my days being numbered and how I must value the time I have here. Although I wasn’t actually doing the bead thing I did think, as I was thinking about it enough, that I was still getting the benefit of the journey. I planned to actually do it. One day. Not quite sure when though, perhaps it would come at the time I started to wear pencil skirts.

I told a few people about the bead idea and they all said how morbid it was until I happened to mention the concept to my Swedish screen writer friend, Johanna one night over a meatloaf. She immediately leapt at the idea and we began planning how to do it.

I have never seen it as morbid. I’ve always thought of it as an instrument, a conduit to get to the heart of the matter of life. Its like therapy, I respond to laser surgery rather than lying on a couch banging on week in week out for years on end.

Slightly depressing straight off to realize that she had about a thousand more days than me. Being a little younger and also from a country with a higher life expectancy than most. Although I believe that its quality over quantity and anyway, I’m not Swedish. What could I do. No use crying over spilt Scottish milk.

As it turns out, thinking about doing this and actually doing it are not the same thing at all. I was totally unprepared for how this journey was going to change my life and what was going to crystallize as a result of beginning it.

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  • Michele August 19, 2014 Reply

    Cracking up envisaging you racing off the track with the baton while your team watched open-mouthed, dumb-founded. Very inspiring. I am going to use every minute of today as if it were my last. Just hope it isn’t…

    • JMbeads August 22, 2014 Reply

      Thank you!Yes was a bitter loss for the Scolty House team that year. It was challenging to look into the faces of my team mates, post sprint off the track.Hope this isn’t anywhere near your last, but glad that each minute will be valued regardless.

  • This is a great tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere.
    Short but very accurate info… Many thanks for sharing this one.
    A must read post!

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