"On the path ahead, stepping out from behind a boulder, a man appears."
Pretty much every woman I know would read this opening sentence to Maggie O'Farrell's memoir, I Am, I Am, I Am, with a sickening jolt. It's the worst nightmare for all of us: We're out doing something benign, like taking a walk on a nice day, but we're alone, and suddenly...
This book is an examination of O'Farrell's brushes with death throughout her life, and not always her own. From the incredibly opening memory of being approached by an unknown, menacing man while out walking in the hills, to dealing with a string of miscarriages, to having fought off a deadly disease as a child herself, to having been a willful child who's mother probably was not sure would make it to adulthood, she looks at living, and dying, and what constitutes living.
It's at times horrifyingly vivid. But that shows what a good writer can do with this kind of material.
It also made me reflect on some of my own weaknesses and short-sighted moments. While reading of a third near-loss while swimming, I found myself impatiently thinking, Didn't you learn anything the first two times??
But then I reminded myself of how, as I've gotten older, I've gotten increasingly terrified of heights. I know this about myself. I know that even a taller-than-normal down escalator gives me vertigo. So why, when my husband I recently went to Las Vegas, did I propose the idea of going to the observation deck of the replica Eiffel Tower? What made me think that would be the exception?
It wasn't the exception, and I nearly had a full-blown panic attack 500+ feet in the air. We are all capable of denial and magical thinking.
In any event, the message that O'Farrell urgently states throughout this book is: Don't be afraid of life. You don't know when it will end. Go on living, as best as you can. A worthy message at any time.