Overcoming Fear

The Difference Between Existing and Living

Me Ra Koh

I met an elderly woman today on my morning walk.  She struggled to pull out her recycling bin, so I jumped in to help.  Her hair was pure white, wispy, and a bit messy but still elegant. She was dressed in sweats and slippers.  In two years of doing the exact same route for my morning walk, I had never seen anyone stir in the big house that loomed behind her.  “Do you live here?” I asked.  She sheepishly said “Yes.  It’s just me since my Ernie passed away.”

“I’m so sorry. How long were you both married?”

“Oh!” she said with a chuckle.  Looking at the blue morning sky, leaving me for a moment to a distance memory, she answered “fifty six wonderful years.”

Without thinking, I said “I never thought anyone lived here.”

Her shoulders dropped, and she looked behind her at the large house.  Her eyes rested on the run down “For Sale” sign that has been out front for years.  “I think the house hasn’t sold because I’m not ready to let go yet.  Those walls are filled with memories you can’t imagine.  Ernie is with me everyday, even though he’s been gone for several years.”

And then she looked into my eyes, fighting back tears, and said…

“But I’ve decided most recently that I’m going to choose living again.”  She paused and looked at her slippers.  “No one ever tells you how painful that choice will be when your best friend is gone.  But I need to choose to live, not just exist.”

My immature, young heart sometimes thinks that the need to choose life is only made a handful of times.  This morning I’m reminded we are asked to choose life throughout our whole life. There is a big difference between existing and living. Choosing to live takes courage.

I took the above photo when we visited the Tulip Festival with a macro lens.  I wanted an image that held the story of unfolding–unfolding a mystery, a wonder, an unknown, a clenched fist, a new beginning, a choice.

Existing or living.  Which one do you choose today?



There is a big difference between existing and living. Choosing to live takes courage. This unexpected woman showed me how she was choosing after 56 yrs of..

DSLR Settings for those of you who love them: 100 ISO, Aperture was f/4.0, Shutter Speed 1/800th of a second, shot with SONY Macro 100mm Lens


  1. BreAnna says:

    Such a beautiful story!

  2. Teresa rish says:

    So sweet. In tears

  3. kate says:

    I think her choice includes a God-given new friend that she met this morning. Think how alive she’d feel to be included in your family events, even daily things with the kids. Elderly people have SO much to offer kids, and us 🙂 A dinner that includes this woman, would make her feel like a princess, and you know you’d be as blessed as she would! Don’t pass up “an appointment” like this Me Ra. Keep us informed, and pics too, if she’s willing to have you share hers.

  4. Carol Davis says:

    beautiful story…

  5. meg says:

    After reading Kate’s comment, the story of this “chance” meeting made me think it souds like the first sentence in a great fiction novel…

  6. What a beautiful story. I can honestly say right now I am existing, someday I will be able to choose to live. But right now existing is all I can manage.

  7. Tina P. says:

    Beautiful story………brought me to tears. Her saying, “I choose to live, not just to exist” made me pause…..something deep to think about! Beautiful tulip too!

  8. wow. i love this. seriously….great.

  9. Andrea says:

    That is true beauty…this woman walks in such wisdom, to recognize her place on the journey and her need to grieve, to honor her own heart by staying while she needed to stay and recognizing (and even more stunning, being willing) to begin to move forward and choose life. Those steps can be so weighty and painful and difficult…and courageous. What a gift you had in this encounter, Me Ra! And thank you for gracing all of us by sharing it!

  10. Michelle says:

    Let me wipe my eyes real quick.

    WOW, what a hard decision it must have been for her. I hope she has no guilt. She is so brave to make the realization that she owes it to herself and her husband’s memory to keep on living life to its fullest. I’m sure it hurts to take these steps without him. Bless her.

  11. Rose says:

    So sweet. It’s like a real life version of “Up”.

  12. Rose commented on Me Ra Koh Photography Blog:

    So sweet. It’s like a real life version of “Up”.

  13. Lovely sentiments. The choice never seems to get easier does it?

  14. Diann Mize says:

    Oh, Mira…I so agree with Susannah Gill. To photograph that dear sweet lady, in her safe and special place, surrounded by love and memories….What a precious gift it would be for her. … A remembrance of a lifetime of love as she moves on to whatever her future holds. My husband and I have 45 years….and I cannot even begin to imagine a life without him….

  15. Such a beautiful story MeRah <3

  16. Thank you for sharing this. It is a beautiful thing for each of us to reflect on. What choice do I make each day?

  17. My heart is so full in hearing how much this story touched you. She deeply moved me. And we’ve had a few more conversations that have been incredible. I always feel like there is so much, SO MUCH to gleam from elderly people–all their wisdom and experience. And yet, it seems that so few feel confident that they have that to give…yet anything they share is covered with wisdom whether we use it or not. Do you notice this too? I wish there was a way to change this mindset and empower them in knowing they have so much to offer all of us who have yet to reach their stage in life. Does that make sense?

  18. Absolutely MeRa! I met a woman back in 2003 while doing a seminar, she needed a ride to and from so I volunteered as her home was on my way. She was 83 years young at the time! It became an enriching friendship and I was with her often, including the day that she died at the age of 88. It seems that so often the elderly feel useless because of the physical decline that typically comes with age, and yet, they have so much to give! Their lives are filled with rich experiences, tales of travel, learning along the way, words of wisdom, and sometimes just plain old funny stories and surprising adventures. This is one of my favorite stories: We lived in LA at the time and bought our friend a new TV. When my husband and I went over to hook it up for her we needed to test the VCR/DVD player and she said, “Oh, just grab any tape.” Low and behold we put in a random VHS tape and it started playing a music video with some head-banging music. We exclaimed, “Rita Mary, what is this?” and she said, “Oh, that’s my rock video. Look, I’m the wise old sage.” And sure enough, it flashed to a scene of her sitting around a fire, dressed as a sage. Now of course this was LA 🙂 but what a story to share at her memorial!