Just Like That

During a recent conversation with a 10-year-old, he let me know he’d spent the weekend at his cousin’s. When I asked if the two got along, the boy replied, “Well, no. He’s a butthole.”

That turn of phrase is the perfect descriptor for my current feelings about mortality. Mortality, you are a total butthole. In January, you took my Gaga. In May, you took my Libby. And in November, you (literally) messed with my mother’s head.

Two days before Thanksgiving, while mortality busily maneuvered a blood clot towards my mom’s brain, I asked my husband to take this photo:


We were vacationing on the Georgia coast, and I knew Mom would love the image, as she always says I’m not really on vacation until she sees a picture of me in a tree. Before I had the chance to show it to her, however, I got a call from my sister.

“Hello, Sister!” I answered cheerily. “How are you?”

“Um, I’m okay,” she said, but her tone was strained. I held my breath in anticipation of what would come next. “I need to tell you that Mom had a stroke.”

While awaiting post-surgery news with phone in hand, tears streaming down my face, I scrolled through saved texts, emails, voicemails, and photos from Mom. Just like that, the emotions associated with her contacts had shifted entirely. The same images that would have brought a smile to my face before my sister’s call now filled me with bitterness and heartache.

Twenty minutes later, I received word from Dad that Mom was out of surgery, wiggling her toes, talking, and laughing. The next day, I sent her this photo of my husband, taken that morning:

She sent back a series of happy faces and hearts.

Due to an amazing set of circumstances that some would call blessings and others would call luck, only two hours passed between my sister’s 911 call and the blood clot’s evacuation. Four days later, sitting with both of my parents in their car on our way to their home in Florida, I snapped this photo to share with Mom’s many admirers:

All crises leave lessons in their wake. From this one, I’ve been reminded that Mortality the Butthole does not mess around. It tears loved ones away without warning or apology. Even if no words are left unsaid, hugs withheld, or moments unsavored, the loss will hurt like hell. I suppose all we can do is recognize and cherish the precious, finite time we have with each other and let that be enough. Attachment inevitably leads to suffering, and I choose to attach. Grief is just part of the deal.

And my final, lingering lesson from the recent crisis is this: referring to mortality as a butthole kind of helps. I recommend it.

Nadie Sale Vivo

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I got this lovely skull carved into my arm about a decade ago. Nadie sale vivo means No one leaves alive, and people’s thoughts on that phrase vary considerably, from the Tico in Costa Rica who interpreted it as: “Me tocas, y no sales vivo” (essentially: Touch me and die), to the guy who saw it at a party and launched into a murderous rampage speech à la Amanda Plummer in Pulp Fiction, which was not only loud and annoying, but also completely inaccurate.

Nadie sale vivo isn’t meant as a threat. It doesn’t mean I’m planning to kill everyone; it means we’re all going to die. I think of it as a cross between Carpe diem & Memento mori, and I’m grateful that skull’s on my arm, observing me through cavernous eyes with the continual reminder: Live life now.

People tell me they think about Nadie sale vivo when contemplating risky decisions that require the transcendence of fear. While I love those stories, I also wish folks would consider the brief, fragile state of our mortality when deciding how to interact with one another, especially in the realm of cyberspace, where pseudo-anonymity and physical distance create a weird, false sort of “courage,” leading to a shit ton of pointless ugliness.

If you read the average internet comment stream, it appears that everyone’s itching to have a rageful meltdown. Even something as innocuous as a video of a baby elephant playing in a puddle will be followed by some inexplicably-furious, all-caps declaration like: “ELEPHANTS ARE MURDERED EVERY DAY IT’S HORRIBLE THAT YOU’VE EXPLOITED ELEPHANTS LIKE THIS I CAN’T BELIEVE WHAT MONSTERS PEOPLE ARE TO MURDER ELEPHANTS!!” Following that, of course, will be a string of five hundred comments from other people insulting the original commenter and/or one another, all along the spectrum from “You’re an idiot” (or more likely “Your an idiot”) to “Eat a bullet” (it is unbelievable how many death threats fly around between strangers on the internet). All because of a baby elephant playing in a puddle, which really deserves only one comment: “Aww cute <3”

Here’s a bit of unsolicited advice from your old pal Kelly (I’m big on offering my 2 cents without being asked). Let’s use our tiny shreds of life – the brief sparks in the universe that we’ve been granted – to be good people and do good things. To start, what if we all decided to have extremely positive reactions to things, instead of extremely spiteful reactions? Returning to the above example, the all-caps declaration could read like this: “OH MY GOD I LOVE BABY ELEPHANTS MORE THAN ANYTHING THEY ARE SO ADORABLE I COULD JUST EXPLODE THIS IS PROOF THAT THE WORLD IS UNBELIEVABLY FREAKING AMAZING BECAUSE HOLY SHIT BABY ELEPHANTS!!!!”

After all, each of us has a finite number of heartbeats, inhales, and exhales, so let’s not waste them spewing vitriol at one another. The angrier we get, the stupider we get (this is a biological fact), and nothing productive comes from insults, name-calling, or death threats. Everyone just gets angrier and stupider. If you need further proof of this (aside from the irrefutable neurological evidence), take a look at the current state of our nation. We are an angry, stupid mess.

I vote that we kick our self-righteous, reactionary b.s. to the curb, rise above the fray, and try out some extreme, all-caps positivity. At the very least, we could make each other laugh, and laughter, unlike blind rage, is actually good for us.


See? Much better.

[P.S. – Along these same lines, let’s please stop calling each other hypocrites. It is entirely redundant to call another person a hypocrite. We’re all hypocrites. There’s no such thing as perfection when it comes to human beings. Mahatma Gandhi beat his wife. So there ya go.]