IMMORTALITY AND THE DAILY PROMPT

And here is my original entry on this prompt. Which, as it turns out, is still pretty funny and as obnoxious as the first time I wrote it.

I am not sure I ever thought I was immortal — probably because I didn’t think about it at all. Until sometime in college, I did not ponder the nature of life and death.

College was a peak time for that kind of mental muck-raking. Was it the drugs? No, I’m inclined to think it was going to classes. You see, college presents no danger unless you actually attend lectures and stuff. If you just hang out on the quad, it’ll be okay. But I took courses like  “The Philosophy of Religion” and went to lectures on Phenomenology. And, I had a steady assignment of existential novels to read by Sartre, Camus, et al. Deep stuff. The kind of books I totally won’t look at any more.

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That this hyper-intellectual phase of my life coincided nicely with my first actual near-death experience was pure chance. It didn’t improve my personality, that’s for sure. There is nothing more aggravating than a teenage college student contemplating the philosophical meaning of life. And death. Had I not already been me, I would have had to expel myself as a punishment for being so annoying.

I’m pretty sure all of us thought we were very smart and had a solid grip on the life and death stuff. Even adding on my botched spine surgery — which nearly killed me for real and all — I was still an obnoxious wise-ass with an inflated sense of my intellectual prowess.

Things have really improved. Now I’m an aging senior citizen wise-ass. Oh, and I am pretty sure — not 100%, but maybe 90% — I am not immortal. Eventually, I’ll know for 100% certain.

I’ll get back to you on that.

WHAT’S NEXT? SING ALONG WITH TOM LEHRER

“What else could go wrong?  How much worse could things get?”

My husband and I have an agreement. We will never say those words. Not say them or even think them. Because no matter how bad things are, no matter how dark life looks, there’s always something else that can go wrong. If you are alive, you are already money ahead. You could be not alive.

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A fair number of people I counted as friends and loved ones are long gone and more are on that final leg of life’s journey. In the immortal words of Tom Lehrer “Soon we’ll all be sliding down that razor blade of life.” Ouch.

The other day, I was deep in a miasma of self-pity. It’s my least favorite place to be except in a hospital bed waking up to realize “Oh shit, this is going to be really bad …” I thought to myself, “You really are going to die.”

Then I said out loud. “Of course you are going to die. Was there ever the least bit of doubt about it? It was never an “if.” We are all going to die. When and how remain the only questions, but that’s a journey we’re all taking.”

None of the people I know have come back to tell me about the other side. Not one single person has reported back, so I’m not counting on going to a better place. I’m going to try to make the best of this place and let the next take care of itself.

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So what could go wrong? You think things couldn’t get worse?

They can go wronger and they can get worser. And given the shit-storm life is, it probably will. Go wronger. Get worser. So I will shut up and enjoy whatever there is to enjoy because we never know. Actually, we know. We just don’t want to think about it.

Tom Lehrer always cheers me up.

A NON-ANECDOTAL LIFE

I keep getting congratulated for taking the “less traveled road.” But it’s not true.

Sometimes, I took a back road because it was the shortest road to where I was going. More often, I traveled highways, because they offered the fastest, most direct routes.

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Always a pragmatist, I was goal-driven. I don’t remember thinking about if it was a more or less traveled path. Sometimes, I made a good choice. The rest of the time, I did the best I could with whatever mess I’d gotten myself into.

I’ve had an interesting life, but not as interesting as it probably sounds. I don’t talk about the boring parts because they’re boring. That’s the thing about blogging. You get to write your life and leave out the tedious stuff.

I don’t write about staying up late cleaning when I wanted desperately to go to bed. Because there was work in the morning. I had to make the kid’s lunch, get him on the bus. Make sure the dog didn’t eat his homework.

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All the parties I didn’t attend because I couldn’t find a babysitter … or was too tired to think about going anywhere. The nights I fell asleep in front of the television, unable to keep my eyes open past the opening credits.

I had good times. Exciting, weird, funny experiences. Tragedies and triumphs interspersed with long hours, short nights, and exploring the wonders of all-night supermarkets.

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Most of life isn’t memorable. It doesn’t bear retelling. My life was just like yours, whoever you are, whatever you did. Most lives are more alike than different.

I’ve had my share of crappy relationships, horrible bosses, and tedious jobs. I had a husband and child to raise, groceries to buy, a house to clean. I was lucky because I also had wonderful friends who were there for me when the going was tough.

Don’t be misled by anecdotes. Between the anecdotes is where life really happens.

DON’T STOP LAUGHING

Everything and everybody changes, but recently a couple of people I’ve known for a long time have changed suddenly and dramatically. Overnight, they became dry and humorless.

It appears they had a humorectomy. While they slept, their sense of humor was removed. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but it’s deeply disturbing. Have they been replaced by pods, like the  “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”?

I could not survive if I did not see how ridiculous my life is. If the absurdity of it didn’t make me laugh, I would do nothing buy cry and bewail my state. Laughter heals me. It’s better than sex. Better than yoga, meditation, medication, or street drugs. It’s free, unrestricted by laws, available to anyone who is not yet dead and is acceptable behavior under almost all religious systems.

Many friends are going through rough times. Their problems vary, but the results are the same. Stress, anguish, fear, worry, insomnia. You worry, try to keep it together until you’re ready to explode.

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What can you do? When the light at the end of the tunnel really is the headlight of an oncoming train, I say: “Buckle up and let your hair blow in the wind. It’s going to be a hell of a ride.”

Laughing at the craziness, insanity, ludicrousness, the utter absurdity of my life — and the demented world in which I live it — is my first line of defense against despair. Take away laughter, strip away my sense of humor, and I’m a goner.

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I laugh any time I find a reason. At anything that strikes me as funny, which isn’t always appreciated by other people. I even laugh when I’m alone (weird, right?). It reminds me why it’s worth staying alive.

My friends make me laugh. I make them laugh. When our lives are in tatters and everything around us is collapsing, we laugh. Then, we take a deep breath, and laugh some more. The more awful the situation, the more dreadful and intractable the problems, the funnier it is. We are not laughing at tragedy … we are laughing at life.

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The difference between tragedy and comedy is how you look at it. Laughter is the antidote for everything. Try it. It’s a cure.

DO OVER

What Would You Change?  by Rich Paschall

If you could do your life over, what would you change?  Would you choose a different career?  Would you choose a different house or apartment?  Would you consider living in another town?  Another part of the country? A foreign country?

Would you travel more?  Would you see other towns, other regions, other countries?  Do you have adventures that remain unfulfilled?  Do you wish to do more exciting things?

Here’s a big one for you to consider.  Would you change your mate?  Would you have more or fewer children?  Would you stay single or get married, depending on what you current circumstance is?

Many people like to say that they would not change a thing.  They would do everything the same way.  Some say this defiantly so, as if defending the life that they have led.  It may be just a front, however, for some family or friends.  Would we really do things the same way?

No matter what we insist to others, we all have made mistakes that we regret.  Would we not change these mistakes, if only we had the chance?  Would we not make better choices if we had the chance to choose again?

Do you recall the statement you said you wish you could take back because it was insensitive?  Do you recall the gossip that you took part in, only to realize later that it was just a way to put down a coworker, neighbor, or family member that you just did not like at the time?  Wouldn’t the passage of time make us wise enough to refrain from such things?  If we took part in these things with the knowledge of our lifetimes in front of us, would we not take a different course?

Perhaps you have seen the article, frequently reposted on social media (I have seen it a number of times, anyway), that talks about The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. These were collected by a nurse and published in a book.  It is summarized on Collective Evolution website. The list, of course, indicates that if these people could live their lives again, they would not take the same paths.  When they looked back from death’s door, there was plenty to change.

Top on the list was having the courage to live your own life, rather than that which was expected.  As we grow up, there are expectation of parents, grandparents, other family members, teachers and community about what we should do in life.  Our roles are frequently defined by others and we, as loyal children and friends, take the path expected of us.  Would we now decide on “The Road Not Taken?”

Every male patient regretted that they had not worked so hard.  They missed family events or other adventure while they worked extra hours.  From the perspective of the end of life, the choice was clearly a wrong one.  Yes, many need to work harder to support their family, but did we choose work, when another choice would have been better on a particular day?

Many wished they had the courage to express their true feelings, or that they had stayed in touch with old friends, or that they allowed themselves to be happier.  Perhaps they regretted all of these things.  So I ask the question again, what would you change if only you could?

If time and health are on your side, then you can still do many of the things you missed earlier.  You can still make amends for bad choices, thus undoing some mistakes of the past.  Of course, we can not now change everything, but that is no reason to be sad about the past.  We can use what we learned to move forward with better choices.

I think the desire to make up for missing some things in the past is one of the emotions that gives rise to the “Bucket List.”  Of course, you may put things on the list that are new to your thought processes, but how many of the things you would list would actually be things you feel you missed out on in the past?  Is there some adventure you should have pursued in the past that you can still do now?

While there are many decisions I regret from the past, and some that I regret now actually, I have one basic problem with a “Do Over.” If I had made different choices in the past, would I still end up in the same place? You see, there are many things about the present I like as they are.  If I had gone a different route, would I eliminate some of the things I like about the today?  Would some of my close friends be missing?  Of course, I would not know they were missing if I had gone another way.

Friends meet up in Strasbourg

Friends meet up in Strasbourg

My jobs in recent years have allowed me to make new friends in other countries.  In fact, one of my best friends lives in France.  We have travelled to France, Germany and England together as well as much of the USA.  I can not now imagine a life that does not include him.  I never thought of these travels or friendships when I was young, so I could not have consciously made the choice to end up where I am.

Because of my love of my current adventures and friends, I guess I really do not want a “Do Over.”  I just hope the knowledge I have gained from past mistakes will allow me to make better choices in the future.

From where you are right now, do you wish to go on with the knowledge you have gained, or would you rather have a “Do Over” realizing it may take you to a different place?

BETTER THAN DEAD

I hear a lot of complaining about aging. Some of it is coming from me, so I admit in advance, I sometimes forget to be grateful I’m alive. Getting old ain’t fun, but not getting old is less fun.

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Age brings financial limitations, aches, pains, and indigestion. On the plus side, it brings an end to commuting, doing whatever your boss tells you because you need the paycheck, and never having time for yourself. Being alive offers significant advantages over being dead. Which, to the best of my knowledge, is the only alternative to growing old.

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I think we are most afraid of age when we aren’t old yet, but see it coming. Most of the bewailing and bewhining about getting old doesn’t come from old people. It comes from middle-aged folks who feel they are quite old enough, thank you, and could we please just stop this aging nonsense? Can’t things stay put?

Not really.

The good news is the fear of getting old is much worse than being old. When you get to whatever age you have defined as officially “old,” probably when you retire or sign up for whatever your country gives to those who no longer work, old turns out to be life, minus going to work.

Just a continuation of life. There’s no sign saying “WELCOME TO OLD, A REALLY BIG TOWN.”

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Many of friends and family members died younger than I am now. A lot younger. There’s little point in agonizing about what might happen. Worry doesn’t change anything, but it sure sucks the joy out of now. The worst part of all the stressing over possible future disasters is we worry about the wrong stuff. Inevitably, what actually happens isn’t what we worried about. It’s something we never expected, for which we are utterly unprepared.

Someone quotable said that in this secular age, worry has taken the place of prayer. I don’t know whether or not prayer was ever effective at preventing bad stuff from happening, but I’m sure worry isn’t.

In the long haul — if you’re lucky enough to have a long haul — there will be sufficient real problems to keep you busy. You don’t need to worry about stuff that may never happen. Figure out what to do about the crisis when and if it happens. Otherwise, enjoy what you can.

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I gave up worrying sometime around the time I got the second cancer diagnosis. Clearly, the whole worry thing had failed. It was time to try a different approach.

I recommend living in the moment. Try it. You’ll see.

I don’t mind getting old. I resent being sick and hate being poor. On the positive side, I’m alive to complain about it. A lot of folks I used to know cannot say the same. They can’t say anything. That’s the down side of being dead.

Getting old, with all its hazards, will always beat getting dead.

LIKE IT SHOULD BE

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Everything is as it should be. No matter how strange or bizarre, in the end, it’s right. It does not mean we are happy about the way our book of life is written.  Where is my shelf of bestsellers? My big house on the cliff overlooking the ocean? The hot little sports car and my horses?

I want what I want. To be richer, healthier, younger. I want my brother, a final conversation with my mother. I want my old friends to not live so far away. To live, period.

I want those things I buy to last forever. How many times do I have to buy a new refrigerator? Didn’t I just buy this one? Really? That long ago?

Somehow, it works out. It balances. You wind up in a place you never imagined being, but after a while, you realize it suits you.

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Good stuff can be subtle. Crises whack you upside the head. Hard to miss them.

Happiness is sneaky. It slithers into your world like a mist, gradually invading the darkness and filling it with sparkles. One day, you find you are singing as you go about your daily tasks.

“Oh,” you say. “I’m happy. How — when — did that happen?”

It’s never all up or all down. The coaster tosses you from side to side. You scream down the big drop and laugh as the chain pulls your car to the next peak. That’s the point of the ride, isn’t it?

I once stayed in a resort so far beyond my expectations, I was stunned. The weather, however, was hot and humid. We could barely bring ourselves to go out and do anything.

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The following year, we found ourselves in the most beautiful town on Cape Cod. We were near enough to the beach to see, hear, and smell the Atlantic. The room was horrible. The beds were hard. The bathroom was barely usable. But the weather was perfect, and the sun shone every day.

It’s okay to be sad. From sadness, we learn joy. We need darkness to understand light. (Remind me I said this!)


ALL IT’S CRACKED UP TO BE, when everything actually turned out exactly as you’d hoped. Or better. Or something else entirely.