A framed picture of a human skull wasn’t exactly what I’d expected my friend to hand me. The first day of the writer’s retreat all the participants are gifted with items such as tiny tablets to carry on our walks, coffee mugs with our initials and cheery book markers. The meditation stones we were once given were a bit unconventional, but an image of a skull was far from the usual favors we’d been accustomed to receiving.
We planted the picture beside our computers and wrote in silence as the message integrated into our bones—we too will melt away one day, leaving behind a skeleton so whatever we want to communicate now, we’d better be saying. Fingertips tapping the keyboards resounded throughout the lounge that day more than ever. Time was upon us and we were well aware that even though it wasn’t necessarily breathing down our necks, the idea of limited time was a “daggone” good inspiration for writer’s block.
At home, I prominently displayed the picture of the skull on an accent table. Daily the message shouts to me, “Live today as if it were your last. It might be.” Talk about setting a pace for your day. Imagining it’s your last one will either ignite your passion so strongly that you will buzz through your to-do list or everything on it will seem frivolous and you will strike a match and laugh as it goes up in flames.
I’ve often envisioned people watching me go about my day—seeing me careen into the parking spot instead of permitting the person whose blinker was on to pull in. I’d imagine everyone saw my integrity when I handed the cashier back the extra twenty in change, she’d given me, and imagine everyone saw my diligence in picking up the candy wrappers and pop cans in the parking lot and putting them in the trash. I’d imagine the invisible eyes cheering as I ran off a group of four-wheeling boys doing donuts in the park’s gravel lot—the driver behind me on the interstate booing when I toss my apple core out the window.
But all the intangible accolades I’ve collected throughout the years from the spectators who I’ve imagined have been impressed or disappointed by my life … well, I realize now, they weren’t half as interested as I’d told myself they were. The fraction of my life people see, the persona of me, is just that—a disguise I learned early on I must wear to blend in—one I must hide behind to maintain pretense and to be socially accepted.
The older I’ve gotten, the more gifts of insight and skulls I’ve accumulated, the sillier I feel inside the mask worn by the masses. I not only shudder at the thought of blending in, I actually relish my eccentricities. I want to live bare-faced and free even if that means I’m surrounded by nothing but the timeless wind and frothy sea.
So, whether I’m sliding mala beads between my fingers, eyes closed, counting each of my blessings, or glancing into the empty caverns of a skull where eyes once sat, I am grateful for each individual bone in my body that together form a vessel in which I experience life.
I recently added a cow skull to my living room decor. The teal piece of artwork complements the framed likeness of facial bones and reminds me of Shakespeare’s character, Hamlet, holding Yorick’s skull in his hands as he exclaimed, “Where are your jokes now? Your pranks? Your songs?”
And just like Hamlet instructs the gravedigger to go to his lady’s room and “Tell her that no matter how much makeup she slathers on, she’ll end up just like Yorick someday,” I say, “Live like no one’s watching—pick your teeth, blow your nose, dance barefoot on the sand, honk your horn—revel in each moment because if not now, then when? What’s your skull saying to you?
Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County, author of “Rain No Evil” and host of Life Speaks on AIR radio. Access more at soundcloud.com\lifespeaks.