Why Open Another Box?

A unconditional conversation between mother and daughter...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


“Thank you, God, for a good day
and for another chance at life,”
Pastor Flak begins
our weekly prayer together.
those words say a lot to me,
particularly the phrase
“another chance at life.”

everyone should give thanks
for getting another chance
to watch the dawn,
to spend time with people we love,
to breathe in fresh air,
to smell good food cooking,
to hear beautiful music,
to learn something new,
to feel happy, sad, angry, proud, excited,
and simply to live.
But usually we don’t thank God
or anyone else
for the patterns of our lives.
If we are happy,
it is due to luck
or our intelligence
or hard work.
We take for granted
almost everything good
that touches our lives
because we are far too busy
to stop and contemplate
the incredible wonder of life.

It’s funny how you change your tune
when you know your days are numbered.
Life, as you have come to know it,
comes to a screeching halt
and you look at all
the ordinary things around you
(things you took for granted)
in a completely different way.
At least
that is what I did.

Oh, the foolish games
people invent
to delude themselves
that their earthly bodies
will never wear out or malfunction!
All creatures on earth are mortal.
Short lives or long,
all creatures die –
even human beings.
Yet, we choose not to think about it
and spend enormous sums of money
as well as time
trying to evade old age and death.

For me
the way I went about cheating death
and the aging process
was by taking daily aerobic classes,
eating nutritious food,
staying out of the sun,
and just talking about it.
I thought I could avoid the inevitable
by using these clever evasive tactics.
I mean,
I KNEW I would die some day
but I lived my life
as if I would live forever.
I took the ordinary, day-to-day activities
of my life
totally for granted.
I believed myself to be
reasonably conscious
of how precious
the gift of life is.
I loved my family,
living in beautiful Northern California,
and my upper middle class lifestyle.
But I never REALLY appreciated
how delicately balanced
our lifetimes are.

Threats to our fragile existence
come in many ugly forms:
cataclysms (floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc.),
and, of course, disease.
With the exception of suicide,
none of us knows
exactly when we are going to die
yet we continue to put off
saying or doing the things
that can wait until “later.”

There are also people
at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Instead of facing life
in a blasé fashion,
they become crippled and immobilized
by the fear they are going to die
and try to protect themselves
by withdrawing
from this dangerous world.
At different times
I have waited until “later”
and also have withdrawn from a scary world.
Neither policy worked.

Then I was given
“another chance at life.”
Each day
since I heard I was dying
much sooner than I’d planned,
I have thought about
what it means to be alive.
The first several months
after hearing the devastating news,
I gathered together
everything I cherished
and clung to it
in a state of icy panic.

All the people,
the philosophical ideas,
and the plans for the future
which made up my life until then
were threatened with extinction
because I wouldn’t be around to keep them alive.
The end of me
and of all the things I loved
scared me in a way
I’d never experienced before.
My focus turned radically inward
To my little made-up world.
Although I didn’t know it then,
I’d already received the gift
and was using it.
My almost obsessive attention
to every detail of my kids’
appearance and behavior
and my suddenly keen eyesight
for the beauty of the world around me
were the beginnings
of my recognition of life’s value.
All of my senses
were alerted to the threat
of nonexistence.
For whatever time was left to me
I planned to absorb life
like a sponge.
I was going to appreciate life
if it was the last thing I did!

Over time
my tenacious grip
on the little world
I had created and adored
began to relax.
Instead of trying to shield my world
from inevitable change,
I began to treasure each special moment
that came my way
then let it go.

When Flak and I thank God each week
for “another chance at life,”
it reminds me
how lucky I was that day
to watch the dawn,
to spend time with people we love,
to breathe in fresh air,
to smell good food cooking,
to hear beautiful music,
to learn something new,
and to feel happy, sad, angry, proud
and excited.
Even in my weakened condition,
I love being alive
and I consider myself privileged
to keep getting so many chances
to start living all over again
every single day.

I don’t think that my experience
will influence others
to live their lives differently.
It isn’t my intention
to convince people
they should wake up
and start appreciating life.
Unless a person is
challenged by circumstances
--like I was--
nothing I or anyone else could say
would alter that person’s
value structure.
The sad irony is
that it often takes
a “lucky break”
like I had by becoming ill
in order to truly appreciate
life’s simple pleasures.
I hope you are as lucky as I have been
to have some time
to reorder your priorities.

Having another chance at life
requires time.
I wish it for you.

By Laura Schiller
February 1987


  1. Your mom would be proud of you, Erin. I can hear in her "voice" how alike you two are. Love the new blog, please keep it going. It's a conversation that I, for one, am anxious to be a part of.

    I hope you know I had to create a blogspot account just so I could comment on this. I suppose I might as well use it now. Sigh.

  2. Wow, Erin this is very special. I hope that your Mom's experience and thoughts do influence me, she is obviously a very special person. I say is because she is still making a difference today via her writing (with some help from her daughter). Thanks for letting me share in this journey, it looks like we are all going to learn a lot!