Editor’s Note: This post is a lot more than a walk in the park in beautiful Italy. It’s a journey through the most trying moments of this Clergy Project member’s life’s and his decision to live life fully. You need to read it. /Linda LaScola, Editor
I’m sitting on a park bench in Positano, Italy.
I’m told it’s the crown jewel of the Amalfi coast, and I tend to believe it. It’s stunning, breathtaking, awe-inspiring — all the words. One could get numb to it – its sheer beauty, as around every turn is another postcard view. And you can only take so many pictures before they all start to look the same. So you pause, drink it in, and think.
There’s a lame pigeon strutting around behind me. His left foot is curled up under him, which I’m sure puts him at a disadvantage when it comes to scrambling for scraps. The street vendor across from me is falling asleep in his chair – no one seems to want to shoot his air guns at bottles to win stuffed animals. He seems oddly out of place in this Mediterranean playground. Perhaps his fortune will improve in a few weeks when the busy season starts. The two teenage girls walk by a third time, their tight dresses impossibly short, looking for boys to pay some attention to them.
My legs hurt.
I overdid it yesterday, climbing down the steep stairs to the beach, and back up again. Too many steps for these disintegrating muscles. I’m told that when I overdo it, my muscles cannot recover. I’m possibly doing damage to them, and hastening my disability. My legs were quivering relentlessly last night, reminding me that I have a fatal illness. I tend to forget that now and then.
To all the people walking past me in this paradise, I look normal. Healthy. But I’m not.
And that’s why I am here, in Italy, living the best life I can, while I can, as long as I can. The reality of my illness juxtaposed against this beauty is a dichotomy indeed.
I could be home, doing safer things, being more comfortable. But I don’t think I’d be living. I think I would just be trying to stay alive as long as possible. And I decided at the outset that I wouldn’t do that.
I do want length of days, more so now than ever, mostly because of Bevin. This amazing woman has come into my life at this late stage and given me yet another reason to live. But I know I can’t stop doing the things I want to do and going to places I want to see, just to stay alive longer. So I may do damage to my legs, and get tired — exhausted even. But I won’t defraud myself.
A couple of bubbas and their wives, probably from the Deep South, have stopped to shoot the gun. Their manhood is being tested as their women watch, and they needle each other relentlessly. The gun didn’t perform as expected, so they walk away without a prize. The vendor is amused at their folly, and sits to doze again, his wallet a bit fatter.
I think I’ll push my tired legs up the hill again, look at the beautiful blue water, have a drink and a cigar, and live some life.
Life can change so much, so quickly. 10 years ago I was still a Christian, but my faith was beginning to unravel. Three years ago I was still married, but that was unraveling as well. And just six months ago I was living my best life ever. But I knew something was wrong. The symptoms hinted at ALS; still, getting the final diagnosis was stunning, sudden, and life- altering.
Ever since I left my marriage and rebooted my life two years ago, I had been living by these two quotes:
“Carpe the Fucking Diem”
“We do not remember days; we remember moments.”
Immediately I began to make plans to travel as much as possible, spend as much time with people I love and make the most of every moment. I retired from working, moved in with friends, lightened my load and simplified my life. I’ve been a guest on dozens of podcasts and have many more planned. I’m scheduled to speak at several community gatherings and schools around the country this summer and fall. I’m constantly looking for new opportunities to talk about Dying Out Loud: facing death as an atheist, and making the most of this one life we know we have.
I don’t know how long I have, or more bluntly – how long I have as a functioning person. It’s quite possible I will live a number of years, but I’m not sure how many of those years will hold a quality-of-life that I’m satisfied with. So I’m compelled to, nay obsessed with, making the most of every single amazing moment.
People tell me I am inspiring them by how I talk about dying, and – more importantly – living. I guess I understand that; but honestly I am just doing what comes instinctively to me. I don’t know of any other way to do this. And I think that’s the case for all of us. We do the best we can with whatever life throws at us. It’s a mix of good and bad for everyone.
At our local ex-Christian Atheist meet up a couple months ago, just a week after my diagnosis, there was a lot of sharing among my friends about how my diagnosis was affecting them. There were lots of tears, but we also had some laughter. Ashley shared a moment she had when she stopped herself in her frustration about some part of her day and pondered:
“How would Dave react to this trivial thing?”
Eric blurted across the room:
“Yeah, what would Dave do?!”
Someone else chimed in:
“Yeah – WWDD!”
And we roared in laughter, among our tears.
Thus the idea for the WWDD bracelet was born- which you can purchase on the website!
(Funds go to medical expenses and ALS research.)
And we had a moment. And that is what I see life as — a collection of beautiful moments.
**Editor’s Question** What do you think you would do, in Dave’s position?
Bio: Dave Warnock was a Christian for 30 plus years in the Evangelical/Charismatic movement, in active pastoral ministry most of that time. He left the faith about four years ago after gradually realizing he had run out of reasons to believe. He is 60 years old and lives near Nashville, TN, where he works in the insurance business.
>>>>Photo Credits: By JeCCo – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34693351 ; http://www.everyonesagnostic.com/wwdd.html