mental health,  poetry

Poem: Death Told me I Had Time Left

I met death at three years old. I fell out of my highchair and hit my head. I sang “Ring Around the Rosie” while the doctor told my mom I had a concussion.

Death told me I had time left.

I met death at six years old. A man hit my Papa’s truck with me and my cousins in the back. I hit the back window and the man took off.

Death told me I had time left.

I met death at seven when my Papa died. He winked at me from across the room of the funeral home.

Death told me I had time left.

I met death at seventeen. I was stopped at a red light when she hit me going fifty. She swerved just in time to save me, but not the bumper.

Death told me I had time left.

I met death at twenty two. Postpartum depression and losing my friends. Darkness crept in as my baby learned to laugh.

Death told me I had time left.

I met death at twenty three. They said my baby might have cancer. Three months of blood tests and they called it a false alarm.

Death told me I had time left.

I met death at twenty six. A man had a stroke and his car went through the median. He missed me and my kids by a hair. I saw death hover and smile at me.

Death told me I had time left.

I met death at twenty seven. A hurricane swept over my town and shook my house. He peered at me through the window pane, saw me huddled on the floor wrapped in a blanket of feigned security.

Death told me I had time left.

I met death today at 11 a.m., staring at my favorite tree. In truth, I meet him every day, every hour, every minute, every second.

I’m just more aware of him some days than others.

Seven months ago there were no leaves on this tree stripped bare by death, wind and rain. The only thing left green on the branches was the Resurrection Fern coating the bark. Framed by an opaque sky, the branches as a black outline in a children’s coloring book waiting to be filled in with color.

The outstretched branches like a promise that even a 250 year old tree can grow new leaves.

A promise of Resurrection when the old things die.

My home, stripped to the studs like a blank canvas. My mind laid bare to new questions I was forced to answer.

Forced to reckon with my mortality, forced to confront my impermanence.

Forced to feel like I have to begin again.

Forced to look upon death with the understanding of inevitability, impending finality.

I met death when I looked into my husband’s eyes as the wind blew and told him I loved him. I met death when he said he loved me, too, as the wind howled and the windows shook and the trees bowed and the water flowed through the roof.

I saw death sitting on the branches of my favorite tree today, staring between the leaves, smiling that crooked smile the way he often does.

A challenge.

We race against the clock of time, knowing full well our end, but unaware of the exact moment of ending. We encounter death and his mocking grin throughout our lives.

Our curse as humanity. The only living creatures aware of our end, our doom.

Close calls, bad times, watching our loved ones slip into Death’s arms.

We either make our peace with him, or fear him and run from his taunting grin all our days.

But there, staring up at Death framed by leaves, I smiled back.

We will thwart death far more than we will permanently slip into that endless night.

And he knows it.

I gazed at the leaves that weren’t supposed to be there. I took in the new life that sprung up from a tree that wouldn’t yield.

Not yet.

We’re not afraid of death. We’re afraid of not having enough time.

We’re afraid of meeting death outside of our own terms.

We’re afraid of being taken by surprise.

We’re afraid of the one thing we humans have not figured out how to subdue, how to control.

We’ve learned to prolong it, yes, but as our last enemy he remains.

Death wrapped himself in his cloak and disappeared from my gaze, the fragrance of more time left in his wake.

Yes. I met death today at twenty eight.

Death told me I had time left.

How much? Who knows?

I know this, there will be far more days I will live than those when I will die.

I know this. Today, there is still time.

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