My daughter Hudson lived for 529 days.
Today, my younger daughter Ada has lived for 529 days. Tomorrow she’ll be older than her big sister ever got to be.
Today, my 39th birthday, I have lived for 14,235 days.
My mother, who died 12 years ago, lived for 20,869 days.
The baby I was carrying, my fourth, died in utero two weeks ago, when I was eight weeks pregnant, before she (I was convinced
it was a she) ever took a single breath. I saw her heartbeat, twice, before I saw it had stopped. She, too, lived for far too few days, albeit in a different way. A life I don’t know how to quantify, a loss I don’t yet know how to grieve, even as I am still bleeding from it.
But what do any of these numbers even mean? I have been dreading Ada’s 529th day for some time, knowing that when it came, she’d move into that space beyond, that space where her sister never got to live. But the 529 days themselves? What does that number mean, if anything?
Obviously, the number of days a person lives has no bearing on the value of her life to those who love her. When I think of my mother and my daughter, the number of days they lived is merely a reminder of the many, many days, far too many, I never got the chance to spend with them. It is no measure of the lives they actually lived.
I’ve already riffed on this theme here, but I’ve learned to listen when Hudson talks. Her favorite song, hands down, was “Seasons of Love” from “Rent.” Her father put it on a mixed CD for me about a month after we started dating—never having seen or heard “Rent,” I fell in love with it immediately. It was the theme for our wedding, the centerpiece of our vows. I put it on the mixed CD I made for Hudson’s first birthday, and within weeks, she insisted that I play it over and over whenever we were in the car. I was grateful when I discovered the “repeat button” on the CD player there.
A life is measured in love.
The number of days lived is no measure of a life. A life is measured in love—love given, love received, love shared, love spread, love lived.
Some lives are cut far too short. Some tumble on. Why? Why do some live while some do not? I have no idea. Fate is a whimsical bitch, and I love her and hate her all at the same time. I have no idea why I am alive and Hudson is not. Why I am alive and my mother is not. Why I am alive and the baby that I never had a chance to know is not.
I have lived 14,325 days. All I know is that my only job is to fill whatever days I have with love.
I have lived 14,325 days. All I know is how much I have loved and how much I have been loved in those days, and how grateful I am for all of it.
I have lived 14,325 days. I have no idea how many more days I have left. Maybe one. Maybe 529. Maybe another 15,000. I have no idea. All I know is that the value of those days depends only on how much love is in them. How much love I give, how much I allow myself to receive, how much I share, spread, live.
I choose to measure a life in love.*
*I stole the concept from Jonathan Larson, of course, but I think he would approve. Astoundingly, I learned just now, as I finished this essay, that he died on this very day, my birthday, 19 years ago, on the day that “Rent” was to preview on Broadway. My hopeful-agnostic self wants to believe that that means something.