A human being has a shelf life. It’s a strange thought, given how essential we tend to think we are, as though we’ll be around forever. But we won’t. We’re born, we ripen, we die. And how do we die? I was on my knees, boxer shorts around an ankle, not only praying but vomiting, and not only vomiting but battling ferocious incontinence, when I realized, We all die like dogs.

The monastery was empty, which suited me. I like to suffer alone. The other monks were on retreat in L.A., but I’d stayed behind to watch camp. An hour earlier I’d awoken with a sting in the left side of my abdomen, as though I’d swallowed a fishhook and someone was tugging the line. It felt like a communication from the land of the dead. After two more hours of vomiting, then spinning around, sitting, and shitting, vomiting and shitting, vomiting and shitting, my hands started tingling and my eyes felt fuzzy, almost carbonated: I saw stars.

The only thing that could hurt this much, in just this way, is giving birth, I thought. Or dying.

I fell to the carpet before the toilet and just began to wail. I rested my head on my clenched fists and screamed, “Please God please God please God.” But you cannot pray your way around what God has placed squarely in your path. So I called 911. I was huddled in a death clump in the room where my teacher gives private interviews when the paramedics stormed the cabin.

“I think I have food poisoning,” I said.

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