I had a pretty significant health scare back in the spring. It was to the point that they thought I may have had less than 5 years left. I remember seeing the doctor’s number on my phone about 20 minutes before I had to give a huge group presentation at Hopkins. I picked up and I knew he was going to give me bad news. They had drawn what seemed like gallons of blood from my protesting arms.

Sure enough, he broke it to me as gently as he could. He had never seen such profoundly bad results. So bad in fact that he wanted some more tests to exclude the possibility of “artifacts” contaminating the samples. I agreed to come in the next morning and ended our conversation with the fake bravado of someone I am still kind of trying to become.

After a sputter of hysterical tears, a strange thing happened. A list appeared in my head. Like, a yellow legal pad with my own handwriting scribbled on it.

That night, walking back from my parking garage, I quite literally stumbled onto the body of a homeless man who had died a few blocks from my place. As a believer in signs, I took it as an importunate message from the universe. The list was still right there, between my eyebrows and hairline, just under the skin-probably visible if you took the care to have a close look. I went online and searched “swing dance” “Baltimore”. It was 7:15. The class began at 8. I got there at 7:58, and I danced my face off.

There will be another blog about Charm City Swing, and how much I love it and the people who run it. For now, just know that dancing was on the list, and they helped me check it off. As it turns out, the samples were contaminated. I’m fine. Now that I’m dying of the more likely ailment of being alive and will probably overstay my welcome on this planet (as is my custom), I still think back to that list.

I came across a different kind of list on Twitter, courtesy of @GuyKawasaki’s news/human interest aggregator, Alltop. These are the 5 most commonly reported regrets of people who are on their deathbeds.

 

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

 

Living a life designed to avoid these regrets is dangerous. You end up dancing a lot and showing perhaps a little too much fondness, a little too soon. You completely fail to be cool, and get in the habit of looking silly while taking time to actually smell the roses.

In that horrifying moment when I was certain I was terminally ill, there was another list: the things I would not be able to do with only 5 years left. Now that those things are at least a possibility,  I think it’s only right to continue on in the spirit of feeling improbably lucky to be alive, so that when I’m actually on my deathbed, I might search for regrets and come up with nothing. Sure, I’ll probably fail, but as is the theme of this blog (and my life), it’s the spirit of the gesture that contains all of the beauty.