It is in this great irony that we ask ourselves what if. What if I had taken that job? What if I had called him? What if I only had 72 hours to live? What would I do? It is a difficult question, because many of us do not know how to live yet. At twenty years old, I am not living yet. I have been preparing myself for life since I was born, starting with learning to walk and talk, followed by a long, successful scholarly career. Now I am in college and working, still preparing for a life. I must finish graduate school before I get a career. Once I'm established in a career, I can think about marriage, family, and a home. I will work until I am comfortable. Then, I can truly live. Then, I can see the world around me. Until then, I have no time to live. I am not alive, because I am not able to enjoy what I have. I am not spending the time I want with family and friends. I am not developing as a soul. Life is put on the wayside, because I have to be practical.
But what if there was no future to prepare for and the door of opportunity was closed? Many would pick an excess of life, sampling every morsel of emotion and sensation possible, until their untimely death. They would pick to savor everything they had sacrificed for a comfortable future. They would sky dive, stuff their faces with their favorite foods, and travel the world. They would act in ways that could undo all of the preparation they have made for their future, but at least they would enjoy themselves. And, honestly, that does sound extremely appealing to me at first glance. But, in the end, none of it would quiet my heart or put it at peace. Material happiness would satisfy the surface, but in the end, it would leave anyone caught in its whirl wind over-stimulated, numb, empty, and lost. It would be a premature death, really.
The goal before death is to be whole again. Through most of our lives, whether we are truly living or not, we are searching. We are not sure what we are looking for, but we, innately, search. We prepare for and dream of a future where we fulfill whatever that innate feeling is. If I had 72 hours left in my life, that is the hole I would try to fill. It would have nothing to do with my senses (though I would enjoy all of the chocolate cake I could eat!) and would, instead, deal with the hopes that have been eluding me for most of my non-life. I would realize the dreams that would make me whole again.
I am an immigrant. My family of eight moved to America when I was four years old. It was a huge change. We came from a country where family was the most important purpose of life. We had all lived by each other. All of my cousins, aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas—we saw each other every day. We held bonfires in the summer, played music together, and walked to church together. It was a simple but fulfilling time. We were a true family. But, my parents left it all behind. I don't blame them; America is the land of opportunity. They wanted a better life for their six children, and we have all grown to be successful people in American society. However, we are all separated. We live in different suburbs and we work too much to see each other. I email my family more than I speak to them. Starting a new life in America required us to overwork ourselves and sacrifice our time. We have lost our family in the process.
America turned out to be a harsh, unforgiving, and lonely place. My parents have sat over the phone in tears, hearing about a family death, unable to take the time off or collect the money to take us all to the funeral. We have missed weddings, graduations, birthdays, births—all of the important moments of life of the most important people of our lives. And, we could not share our moments with them, either. It breaks all of our hearts. Family is satirized as a dysfunctional joke in American culture; it is taken for granted. It is seen as dysfunctional to continue living with, or near, family, extended or not. However, family togetherness is something that is unimaginably rewarding to us. America, in my opinion, is flawed for being so independent—but I digress.
With three days left in my life, I would leave America. I would take what I have saved up, ask my immediate family to do the same, and prepare a big family reunion—no, a celebration—in my native country of Poland. I cannot express the amount of freedom and joy it would bring me to have that time with my entire extended family. They are an eclectic array of wonderful people—the kind you can write an entire book on. We have not been together in one place since we have left Poland in 1994. It would be a life changing event for us all, a moment we would hold dear for the rest of our lives, and we desperately need it. We are all drained, over-worked, and drifting apart.
My immediate family has changed. We, the kids, are all grown up—some are married, and some are with kids. I have a boyfriend of two years. None of these new additions to the family have met the extended family. This family reunion would be the opportunity for those that we have fallen in love with, and the little ones that have been born, to see our history. They would meet our side of the family, the ones that left an entire side of a church or reception hall disproportionately empty, because they were on the other side of the ocean. I have met the love of my life's side of the family, and now he would finally meet mine. I could finally share something so close to my heart—my true home and family.
In that perfect setting, I would finally marry that love of my life. We had planned it for a long time, but because of modern-day worries of school, work, and money, we have not gone through with it. With three days to live, it would be something we would no longer hold back. His family, most of which is in America or China, have the resources to reach Poland. We would finally have a true wedding, with both families in attendance, in a beautiful setting. It would be an interesting mixture of cultures: American, Polish, and Chinese. I would be surrounded with family, his and mine. My life would finally be whole.
Of course, I would still savor my senses. I would enjoy my grandma's food and ride my uncle's motorcycle through the countryside. I would taste all I could of life, and it would be meaningful, because it would be with the people that matter. For those short three days, I would escape my non-life and make my life whole. It is not practical, it will not set me up for a successful future, but it will set me up for a life worth living. Yes, it is ironic that I would learn to love life when it was about to end, but the best part of it all—in reality—is that it would only be just beginning. Family and togetherness, something we all lack in our modern world, is the ultimate solution to that irony.
Joanna Bodnar is a student of pharmacy at Midwestern University, Illinois.