Positano and My Life

Positano and My Life June 24, 2019

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”

and

“We do not remember days; we remember moments.”

One was embroidered on my pillow and the other was a plaque on my bookshelf. The ALS diagnosis only served to strengthen my resolve to live this way.

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

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • mason

    Beautiful Dave!

    Thanks for sharing those moments you’re experiencing https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a478be58f75e9cefb55d48263fbf250d7b4b4e0881d07bfe8c8b4e0430fa7481.jpg . Right now, it’s ironic how the ALS diagnosis has make you seem more alive than ever.

    It’s amazing how people we will never meet in person can be so instrumental and inspirational in our lives. I’m sure that’s happened to you, and now your doing it for so many others sharing the lemonade you’ve made from a lemon.

    Peace TCP bro, and soak in those wonderful moments.

    • davewarnock

      thanks, Mason.

  • Dave, thanks for sharing. We are all dying, but some of us face it while others don’t. Glad you are able to travel and see such beauty.

    I grew up in Joelton, TN just outside Nashville and, of course, in an evangelical church.

    • davewarnock

      yes, I know where Joelton is. Thanks for reading

    • mason

      It’s when death gets right in our face and gives us a shove on our chest that things get really real and quicken.

  • ElizabetB.

    Wow, thank you, Dave. I especially love “We don’t remember days; we remember moments.” I always enjoy your posts here on Rational Doubt, and I’m awed by the meaning you are cramming in to every second — every moment. The more I read about quantum mechanics, epigenetics, entanglement, etc, the more the lines don’t seem so brightly drawn between our states of being. But I don’t like accelerated transitions!!!!!! so we wish you all good things and say thank you for the sharing and wisdom. Would love to listen to the podcasts if they’re available?

    • davewarnock

      thank you for reading. 🙂 Links to the podcasts can be found on my FB page: Dave Warnock. Dying Out Loud

      • ElizabetB.

        These are extraordinary… not just regarding these past few months, but your whole life story. A documentary will be a tremendous gift to the world… thank you for waking us up to the unbearable beauty of being

        • davewarnock

          thank you 🙂

  • Linda LaScola

    I wonder what I would do in Dave’s situation, which is hard, because I’ve never even been really sick. I like to think I’d go to places I loved, got back in touch with people who had drifted away over the years maybe written something that would have a lasting positive effect on people.

    • ElizabetB.

      “maybe written something that would have a lasting positive effect….” Wow, Linda, you’ve already written so much with lasting good effect, with “Caught” and all the posts here…. I would love to be around to read the great summation!!!! : )

      • Linda LaScola

        Thanks for the reminder of what I’ve already done, Eliz.

        It’s not that I’d forgotten, or had purposely diminished its importance — but that I didn’t set out on the clergy study thinking about the impact it would have.

        But I guess that’s the way a lot of good things happen — and bad things too.

  • mason

    What would I do in Dave’s situation? Thanks to religious ignorance and taboo, this subject of facing one’s demise & death is extremely under discussed in the US.

    I couldn’t say for sure what I’d do but maybe a trip or two, but I’m not much of a traveler anymore, especially long air flights, trains, car, or bus 🙂 , but at our age wife & I talk about frequently death, disability, & all the horrible stuff that just about everyone finally comes brutally face to face with, and we both are DNR’s and have our euthanasia methods ready. So it would be just what I’ve done all my life; live all I can, and cut my loses (suffering) short.

    Pain would be a major consideration. I had a time in 2011 where pain had me making several close attempts to jump off the cliff. (Pills were in the mouth and started to drink the strawberry malt) I think it was only a CNS reflex that stopped me. My note was written and my wife was expecting me to be deceased in the am.

    I’ve seen my parents, my aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, all have such a horrible end to life from waiting to long and not being willing to make the exit themselves that we plan to avoid that ending. We’ve even had dress rehearsals and may do double euthanasia. So it’s live life as fully as possible now, soak up the good moments, and hope we die in our sleep like my second wife did, but it was too young for her; age 55 heart attack.

    Maybe one day more states will have the compassion that is offered to our pets, extended to the elderly. More elderly end their lives than is generally reported. Florida is still a Bible thumper backward state so right now we’re left with our do-it-ourself-exit-kit.

    “While older adults only account for 12 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 18 percent of suicide deaths, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). Additionally, this risk increases with age; 75- to 85-year-olds having higher rates of suicide than those who are between 65 and 75, and individuals 85 or older have the highest risk yet.

    The AAMFT also reports that the rates of elderly suicide are estimated to be under reported by 40 percent or more due to “silent suicides”—overdoses, self-starvation, self-dehydration, and “accidents.” However, the organization says that this portion of the population has a high suicide completion rate. This is mainly because of the methods they choose, which are typically easier to deduce as actual suicides and thus reported more correctly. The methods include using firearms, hangings, and drownings.”

    https://www.aginginplace.org/elderly-suicide-risks-detection-how-to-help/

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/34ffb3d85befa502d5b988087ba7aff6daf52c871dde37b4d95475bfdd27910d.jpg

    • Linda LaScola

      fascinating — thanks. Plenty of food for thought.

    • ElizabetB.

      Thanks, Mason! One of our sons lives in D.C., and my cousins have said that his family needs to keep their downstairs quarters available for all of us to cycle through at the appropriate time — DC has a Death with Dignity Act. There’s a residency requirement, so they could have a bunch of company over a few years : )

    • ElizabetB.

      P.S. Dave mentioned in a podcast an organization that comes to you in any state… was it the Final Exit Network? That is very encouraging to know about! Maybe our D.C. son can go ahead and use their downstairs themselves : )

  • mason

    Here’s an amazing recent interview with Dave … starts at 35:50. I highly, highly recommend it. Best podcast I’ve ever heard. https://howtoheretic.com/podcast/2019/6/26/092-what-would-dave-do?fbclid=IwAR3ZvFQ1zyQENQ0kP3BX0VZ6V7e1T3FXUeb8pE5doLBpXdu5yO-tbHoJ7WE

    • ElizabetB.

      I think all Dave’s podcasts are ‘one of the best’ : )

  • carolyntclark

    Thank you Dave for letting us tag along, as day by day we each get closer to facing our own exit.
    I don’t know how I’ll behave when it’s my turn but I do know that, as an atheist, I am more reconciled in my musings about death as the natural end of my natural life. Gone are the spooky imaginings of my soul departing my body and arriving at that holy, mysterious infinity. What a wild tale we once swallowed.
    You’ve found an important mission in sharing your journey.