Richard Hensley

Collective experiences are what make a life

What would you see if your life flashed before your eyes? Most of us have considered this in passing from time to time, but as the years go by, it’s a bit more frequent - at least for me. And since I was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago, a whole lot of evaluating and reflecting has passed through my simple brain.

It’s not an overwhelming thing for me but such realities do clarify a lot about our lives. Depression hasn’t been a problem and neither has fear. From the groggy moments following my colonoscopy, when the doctor told me he found a tumor in my colon and it’s almost always cancerous, something swept over me. I suppose it was a sense of reality about my own mortality.

Most of us think about our collective lives in the abstract from time to time, but when we look straight at it, our brain floods with accountings of how we’ve lived, our loved ones, our friends, our successes and our failures. For me, I considered how rich my life has been and it comforted me on many levels. I realized that life is a collection of experiences - good and bad - and you hope the good far outweigh the bad. That’s certainly the case with me and probably most of us.

I didn’t receive a death sentence with my diagnosis. I go in for surgery in a few days and have chemotherapy to follow, and I have every expectation to get well and carry on with life. Perhaps complications will surface that change the picture, but for now that’s what I foresee.

I have other friends in more dire situations with cancer and other health issues. Or maybe they’re going through rough stretches for altogether different reasons, such as job loss or personal issues we can’t even begin to see or comprehend. All I know is that I’m thankful for the people in my life and how I’ve lived so far - even with the mistakes made along the way.

If and when that slideshow of my life goes off in my head in the future, I hope I relive images of the people who made me smile, of the times I did something exciting and even scary, of the beauty that has surrounded my life and the experiences of trying to do the right thing even in the face of adversity. Some of the bad will likely pop up, too, but since that was a part of my life as well, it goes with the territory.

What I know for sure is that now that I’ve achieved some clarity, I’ll do my best to continue building those memorable and meaningful parts of my conscience. I’ll better appreciate those special moments with my family and friends. The time we spend together will be richer and deeper.

I have much more to do in this life and plan to experience all I can for as long as I can. I’ve checked off a lot of my bucket list throughout my life without even knowing I had such a list, but there’s plenty more to do.

I don’t wish anyone the slap in the face I received last March in that hospital bed, but the fact is, we’re all living on borrowed time, and we know it. The small stuff that nags most of us means nothing. The small stuff that makes our hearts beam with joy or pride or excitement means everything. I’ll cling to the latter and be thankful for every blessing I’ve received in this life. All the rest is just backstory and catalyst for the goodness we experience.

So what will you see when your life flashes before your eyes? That’s up to you.

Richard Hensley is editor and publisher of Highlands Today. His email is