Following a recent physical exam, I was sent for an echo cardiogram because my GP heard a heart murmur. The cardiogram tells me I have something called aortic stenosis, meaning a valve to my heart has shrunk and may need attention. Because at 78 I am blessed with extraordinarily splendid health and have not a single symptom of aortic stenosis, as I wait to consult with a cardiologist, this all seems unreal to me. But I have the good sense to have a session with an excellent therapist who listened as I answered this question: “How would it change you if you decided not to have interventional surgery?” Immediately I said, laughing, “Well, I’d have to step up the pace of my culling the pieces of paper in my house, so my friend who will have to get rid of everything when I die will have a fewer decisions to make.” To my amazement, the therapist replied “Ah, you won’t have the luxury of the illusion that you have forever to do that process.”
This phrase has stayed with me, letting me understand on a new level from whence much of my procrastination comes: I obviously live under a giant illusion, supported by my stunning health for my age, that I might escape the inevitable, that I might have control over when I leave this life. I’m humbled by this new understanding of something attendance at Al-Anon has made clear repeatedly, i.e., I am powerless over virtually everything except my own responses to what befalls me or takes up residence in my brain. Daily, I try to act as if I truly believe this and, certainly, I’ve made great progress in that regard in the past decade. But working my way through this strange and surreal diagnosis about my heart is giving me new awarenesses. And, importantly, I may have a chance soon to accept the giant truth embedded in my therapists phrase, “the luxury of illusion.” Once I processed my personal relationship to this phrase, I began seeing much broader applications of it. Most immediately, it pertains to how most of the world presently is behaving vis a vis climate change. How else to explain such massive and potentially disastrous procrastination about changing policies that might at least slow down the damage we are doing to the only planet we have? As a people, we insist, in the face of overwhelming scientific and phenomenal facts, on refusing to face the consequences of our egocentric thoughtlessness toward the world around us. And this particular illusion has the capacity to overwhelm us on every conceivable level, making a world like “luxury” obsolescent.