As you lie dying

Ambition-realised
Write that book you promised yourself

The Bucket List made in 2007 and starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, is a film about two men with different ideals, capabilities and backgrounds seeking to fulfil their dreams and ambitions before they die, the not so ordinary, one-off ambitions that appear in most daydreams. When it first appeared in the cinemas I did not go to see it. I thought it was a frivolous comedy, disrespectful to the ill and dying. However, I eventually got the message!

The two famous actors were well chosen to make their mark in my life. However, they were not the first. Derek Jacobi in the television series I Claudius, also made the same poignant impression in my brain. In the television series, the old Roman Emperor Claudius is on his deathbed at the beginning of each episode, recounting his life in all its glory and despair, truths, lies, and unfulfilled dreams of recognition and being loved for himself.

Both epics made me think a lot about dying and especially about how I would feel if I were any of these three characters. They made me think about who I am and what I want to do in my life. Be loved? Yes. Be respected? Yes. Fulfil my dreams and ambitions? Yes. What else do I want to do while I spend my all too short life on this earth? There are so many things that I have done but so many remain as challenges yet to be met – and I am intent on fulfilling them.

Presuming that I am loved, I see no need to go out to seek that gift, so that is one joy I do not need to focus on because I return with all my heart the love I receive.

Respected? I believe I am by the people who feature in my life who know my full worth, and by those friends and colleagues who have any idea of who I am. These are the people whose opinions matter to me. I do not go out of my way to seek further respect. I will either earn it or not. I do not need to worry about it.

What are the highlights of my life? Being born, my first day at school, my last day at school, my travels, my wedding day, the birth of my children, and so many more instances of me taking the initiative in doing what I know I am capable of doing. I do not need to list them. Neither do you. Just be aware of them. What you do need to do is to focus on the things you have not yet done that you really want to do.

Ask yourself, ‘Am I fulfilling my dreams and ambitions?’ If not, ask yourself, ‘Why not?’

After seeing I Claudius, and The Bucket List, I have on many occasions thought, ‘How would I feel about my life if I knew that the next hour would be my last?’ How would you feel?

There was one occasion when I felt that most keenly when I contracted bacterial meningitis ten days after an operation to remove a benign brain tumour. The meningitis was serious enough to keep me in hospital for six weeks with the antibiotics not being as effective as the surgeon would have liked, and not eating and drinking anything for at least four weeks. My whole body became an antibiotic and I felt very ill. I was afraid that I would never leave the hospital and when I asked, ‘Am I going to die?’ the reply was, ‘We hope not!’ That was not what I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear, ‘Of course not!’

All I wanted was to be well and get out of hospital. That experience was as painful and near dying as anyone would wish to be. When I was in agony and thought I was dying, my overriding needs were to be holding the hand of my loved one, and have my daughters with me.

Happily, I did not die or you would not be reading this – but I learned what was important to me! My priorities changed completely in that year – 2002. The second instance of the Grim Reaper rearing his head occurred again in 2012. Fortunately, I do not consider my brush with cancer in the same light because I was lucky; the cancer was diagnosed early and treated radically enough to remove the risk of recurrence, unless it appears elsewhere in my body. I hope not but I do not plan to worry about it.

The message I hope I am passing on is that one should not wait until it is too late to do all of the things one wants to.

Life is now. Living is now. Your dreams are with you now.

I live now. I do the things I want to do, now. I do not want to be lying dying on a bed wishing I had done this, or done that. I want to do it now and look back and smile at all the fun I had while I was doing whatever I had done in my life, however long it took me to do it.

You are never too old to fulfil your ambitions. My father was forty when he started roller skating, a few years older when he took up ice-skating, and was sixty years old when he took up Ballroom dancing for the first time. He was so proud of his medals and certificates. Two weeks after he died, my mother picked up from the dance studio, the final gold standard medal he earned as a dancer. His next step would have been to train as a teacher of dancing, at the age of sixty-eight. Had he lived I know he would have done it.

Take the time to fulfil your dreams and ambitions. There is nothing you cannot do. You are responsible for your life. If you wait for someone else to do something for you, you will do nothing. If you only think about what you meant to do on your last day on earth, it is too late to do anything.

Do it now!

© Vee W Selburn

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