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Ever since the pandemic ended, I’ve been trying to figure out why I felt so alive, so prolific, and so unafraid to share my work with the world.

After looking at what happened over and over, I finally understood the key: it was the constant presence of death and destruction. Grief opened me to intense gratitude, compassion for myself and others, and love for the ordinary things I had been running too fast to appreciate. The specter of death showed me what mattered and what didn’t. The terrible power of Nature dwarfed the little worries of being disliked or dismissed that had oppressed me.

Yesterday I was set to present these discoveries to a women’s group I belong to. I had worked really hard on the talk and thought I was going to be free of performance anxiety, until a few hours before the event. My stomach began to curl, my chest filled with spiky heat, and my throat started tightening.

These women were kind and friendly and open, but as my nervousness increased, they began morphing into critical and demanding judges who were probably going to be disappointed in me and upset they had wasted an afternoon.

With only 20 minutes until I was to leave with my box of books and handouts, I lay down to rest, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. Then I said the words I’ve recently been repeating 3 times a day: “I might die tomorrow, so how do I want to live today?” This time I went further than ever, asking myself: how would it happen? Maybe I’ll be walking my daughter to school and I’ll get hit by a car in the crosswalk. I even imagined all the gory things that could happen to my body.

When my thoughts eventually circled back to the talk, it was like the event had been blasted with sunshine. I saw a room suffused with light and a circle of friends around me, smiling and conversing and accepting me for who I am. Beyond the big windows shimmered June flowers and green grass, and I felt lucky to be alive.

"The mind needs problems to chew on," my mentor said to me recently. Maybe it was when I presented my mind with real danger that it stopped trying to concoct it.

Minutes before I was to go on, people were mingling around a table spread with spiced nuts, chocolate, and sparkling wine, and my fears rose again: what if I'm not good enough?

Then I pulled up the image of my mangled body in the crosswalk, and I instantly felt lighter and happier. The real possibility of death tells me: life is happening now. Enjoy it all — these are blessings: these friends, this food, this sunshine, and the chance to share what’s truly in your heart.

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