Posts Tagged 'Death'

Deadman’s A-Z Guide to Living: Fear

I mulled over a lot of options while thinking about what to write about for the letter ‘F’. Faith, friends, family, fun, freedom, forgiveness, fatherhood are all topics I want to expand on at some point during this process, but in the end I chose ‘Fear’ because overcoming one’s fears is probably the single most important thing one must do to live the fullest, most productive life possible.

In small, rational amounts, fears are generally fine things, and certainly serve their evolutionary purpose, alerting us to possible threats and dangers, and preventing us from attempting feats which could prematurely end our lives.

Alas, fears don’t often come in modest doses; they prefer to go big, to expand into paralytic phobias, wiggling their way deep into our psyches, crippling us from doing things that could dramatically enrich our lives.

It’s fear that will prevent you from asking your high-school crush to the prom.

It’s fear that will keep you from majoring in theater.

Fear will have you settle for the first job offer thrown your way. Keep you stuck in your hometown.

It is why you won’t buy that stock, start that business, kiss that girl, write that novel, visit that city, join that group, forgive that enemy, fight that battle, take that leap.

It’ll convince you to avoid a confrontation and refuse a challenge, to shirk commitments and shrink from changes.

Fear is the bitter-tasting wellspring for jealousy and hate and cynicism and regret.

In the end, fear will only leave you wondering what might have been.

Overcoming one’s fears, however, is no simple task; I certainly have few answers. This is strictly a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ piece.

I mean, I know how silly most of my fears are, how freeing it would be to rid myself of them, yet they still cast a very strong shadow in my life.

I may have outgrown or pushed aside out of necessity certain of my fears, but mostly I have failed thus far to do something which I know is of utmost importance.

It’s all quite sad, and I’m sure you’ll find more useful assistance within modern psychiatry or on the shelves of your local bookstore’s self-help section. Or perhaps conquering one’s fears merely requires accessing a reservoir of inner fortitude I don’t have or haven’t yet been able to reach. I only hope you will be more successful.

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Now for your amusement and education, I’ll quickly rundown a small sampling some of my more prominent fears – rating them on their intensity, rationality and impactivity (not a word I don’t think but should be) – and hopefully you’ll be able to see how destructive fears can be. Remember, this is merely a small taste of my fears, plenty more where these came from.

FEAR OF SNAKES, SPIDERS and OTHER CREEPY CRAWLY THINGS

Intensity – Low. So ever since I can remember, I’ve always hated bugs. Could never watch nature shows about creepy things, certainly couldn’t stomach it when such creatures dared enter my childhood home, dismantling its aura of safety and security in one fell crawl. If I would see in my room a spider (they were the most prevalent threat in suburban St. Louis living), my plan was always the same: Immediately flee the scene in search of my mother or father to have them get rid of the offending creature. If neither parent were home, I would not return to the scene of the crime for many hours, at which point I would just pray that the bug had the decency to crawl to my brother’s adjoining room.

Thankfully, over time, this particular fear has dissipated. Granted, I still get the chills and make that crinkled-up face when I encounter a bug. And I still strongly believe that civilized man and creepy crawly things should keep to their own natural habitats (thus my aversion to almost all outdoorsy activities, most notably camping).

But I now have a wife of my own, who is at least as averse to creepy, crawly things as I am, and removal of such creatures now justifiably falls to me, the supposed man of the house. I generally succeed in the task, with only minimal shrieking.

Rationality – Medium. True, those creepy, crawly creatures generally mean no harm, and most couldn’t do harm even if they had the desire, but a small number can be poisonous and/or spread disease. And let’s face it, all of them are rather unhygienic.

Impact – Low. Even at the height of this fear, it was never particularly paralyzing. It did perhaps prevent me from pursuing my dreams of becoming an exterminator.

FEAR OF FLYING

Intensity – Medium. I am still not convinced man should ever leave terra firma. I’m not a fan of the ocean, spooked out by its sheer vastness and by all the unknown, unseen things living in the blackness below (the fact I am not a strong swimmer doesn’t help), but my fear of the water pales in comparison to my fear of flying.

This fear has actually intensified over the years – I never enjoyed flying, but now I dread the days I must travel the friendly skies. For me, the worst part is takeoff, as the process of fighting gravity and achieving flight just seems totally unnatural and full of hubris to me, like it’s doomed to fail because we’re somehow disturbing nature’s laws or god’s will.

I think I’ve just seen one too many disaster flicks, but I just cannot fathom a more dreadful way of dying: Being trapped for several minutes in a plummeting, shaking vessel with nothing but the sound of screams and chaos to keep you company as you wait for the inevitable crash and the horror that will surely follow. (Well, perhaps drowning would be worse, but with some flights you have the chance of a water crash landing, making it a 2-for-1 special in worst ways to die).

Rationality – Medium. Now I know the stats that say flying is by far the safest mode of transportation, but I still believe the absolute horrific nature of what goes down in a plane crash justifies my fears on some level.

Impact – Low. So far, I’ve been able to just bear down and deal with the white knuckles. I’ve pretty much gone everywhere I’ve needed to go, including a couple of long trips to Europe and China. But with a new daughter, I sure do wish at least one set of grandparents lived within train distance!

FEAR OF DYING

Intensity – High. I’m pretty sure I was like most kids, completely unconcerned with my mortality. But ever since my maternal grandfather got sick some 20+ years ago, I began to be consumed by thoughts of death. Despite the fact that my paternal grandfather was the only close relative who died relatively early (mid-5os), I was convinced that I was going to die young. I think what I fear the most is the process – I don’t know what it’s going to feel like to die, but I assume there is going to be a lot of pain and suffering involved (I imagine it being like the worst flu you’ve ever had and you just don’t get better – though obviously a sudden death would be much different). I saw both my grandmothers die and it was an awful process, one that I think as a modern, evolved society we could handle a lot better. Many nights I keep myself up with thoughts of death and dying, often with me as the main subject. Unpleasant stuff, to say the least.

Rationality – Medium. You would think that this would be one of the more rational fears to have. Everyone does, in fact, die at some point. It’s likely to be quite painful. You don’t know the where or when, so there’s a disconcerting lack of control over the matter. And unless you’re a person of deep faith (in religion or science), what happens afterward is more than a little frightening to ponder. But actually, and partly because of all these reasons, death is a highly irrational thing to be afraid of – and certainly not worth wasting the precious minutes of living worrying about death often involves. It’s going to happen – you don’t know when or how but it’s likely going to suck – and you won’t know what comes next until it does, so why not appreciate your life and good health while you have them.

Impact – Medium.  Here’s the crazy thing – while the pain of death is certainly a major reason for my fear of it, at least a part of what I fear is that I will die with unfinished business and view my life as a waste of time and energy. But it’s my fear of dying, along with all of my other fears, that often prevents me from fully living. How utterly asinine.

The solution isn’t to ignore our mortality, either, which is what I find myself – and a lot of other people – doing, maybe as a kind of survival tactic (I know it’s somewhat contradictory for a person who fears death as much as I do, but even today, when I read about someone near my age who dies – an alarmingly more frequent occurrence – I feel oddly detached from the news, as if death was this surreal concept that won’t ever affect me or those closest to me). Instead, I need to respect death, come to grips with its finality, its inevitability, and its ultimate meaning, and use that understanding to better take advantage of the finite, glorious blessing that is life. Respice finem.

FEAR OF REJECTION/FEAR OF FAILURE

Intensity – High. These are actually two different fears but they’re closely related enough (and this blog is way too long already) that I’m lumping them together. Being rejected means being dismissed out of hand, without even being given the shot to prove yourself – think of the woman at the bar looking for the escape route, or the potential employer tossing the cover letter in the trash. Failing is even worse; It means you are given a chance but fall short of people’s expectations. Think of the woman several months later dumping you, or the boss firing you. In the former case, you fear people think you’re a fraud. In the latter, you know people think you’re a fraud. And in my life, both fears are omnipresent, and hugely paralyzing.

Rationality – Low. The worst part is these fears make little sense. First of all, only the rejected can give rejection its power. Who cares what other people think of us, our looks, our personality, our talents? You will never please everyone so you shouldn’t take rejection personally. Dismiss it. Scoff at it. Reject rejection. And as far as failure is concerned, it’s virtually a prerequisite for success. I defy you to find a successful person who hasn’t been waylaid by a significant failure at one point in their lives. The only trick is not letting failure stop you, which is, of course, a trick much easier said than done.

Impact – High. No fears have done more damage to me than these two. And while I won’t ever know the full extent of the opportunities that I may have lost because I was too afraid of rejection and/or failure, I do strongly believe I never reached my full potential because of these fears. In the words of the Rev. Sydney Smith: “A great deal of talent is lost to the world for the want of a little courage.”

Lucky Dog: A Lesson on Living, Loving and Loss

My brother put his 18-year-old dog to sleep yesterday.

My sadness today is profound, almost overwhelming, and I am trying to figure out why.

Obviously, the dog himself, a terribly sweet, ridiculously cute cocker-beagle mix, is the primary reason. He was my brother’s dog -  there’s no denying that – but he was really my first pet as well, my roommate and companion for the eight-plus years I lived with my brother after college.

When I came home from my first real job, he would greet me with that wagging stub of a tail and the butt jerking uncontrollably from side to side. I would lie on the floor, and he would pin me down, licking my face til I could stand it no longer.

I took him for walks every day. I taught him roll over – a trick we had to retire several years ago when it became too demanding for his aging frame – and play dead – which he did pretty well, except for that dang wagging tail, which couldn’t help but anticipate the forthcoming treat.

Lucky gave my life joy and meaning, structure and responsibility.

However, I moved out on my own five years ago, and while I saw Lucky at least once a week and would occasionally watch him when my brother left town, I was no longer much of a caretaker for the dog.

It was my brother who really had to put up with Lucky’s growing eccentricities – like the way he would whimper for hours on end and his increasingly picky appetite (a sure sign of sickness as this was a dog, after all, that would once eat the grossest things the New York City streets had to offer) – and who near the end had to give him the daily injections of IV fluid and clean up all the household accidents as his kidneys started failing more rapidly.

So while some of my connection to Lucky might have been lost over the years, I’m sure some of my sadness also stems from how intensely I feel my brother’s loss. I was there with my brother as he made the correct but horribly final and painful decision to give Lucky a peaceful end, and as he held the dog’s body in his lap one last time. And at least some of my pain and sadness must stem from knowing how badly my brother is hurting right now.

And I think there is something else that is making me sad. Something a bit more esoteric, a bit more selfish, and yet just as deeply felt: Lucky’s death in a certain way marks the passage of an era for me. I first met that dog when my brother, who had adopted Lucky a few months earlier, picked me up at the San Francisco airport when I moved there after college, armed with nothing more than a suitcase full of clothing and a journalism degree from Northwestern University. It was such an exciting time. My life and all its wonderful possibilities seemed ahead of me.

And for the next decade and then some, from one coast to another, from one job to another, Lucky was a part of that growing-up experience. It’s been fascinating to see all the people who’ve been part of my life the past 14 years – high school and college friends who came to visit, new friends, co-workers and colleagues, family members I got to know for the first time – who met Lucky and felt compelled to express their own connection to him on Facebook.

All those people who have been in and out of my life, and all those days, it seems to have flown by in an instant, and I wonder sometimes if I’ve made the right decisions in my life, if I’ve taken full advantage of the opportunities given me, and whether i am happy with where I’ve ended up.

Yes, I am married with a great wife, have my own awesome dog and am expecting a baby daughter in the fall, and I know that challenging and exciting moments are ahead of me. But that special post-college time – when my life and its direction seemed a complete mystery, even to me – feels like it now has passed forever along with Lucky.

Yesterday, my brother, his girlfriend, her sister and I took Lucky to the park where he had spent so many happy moments. It was such a beautiful day, with a bright sun and mostly cloudless sky giving off the gentle warmth of early spring. Lucky seemed very happy, taking in the familiar smells, feeling the soft grass beneath his paws, enjoying all the extra attention he was getting (though I’m sure all of the petting was a bit uncomfortable on his sore body, he took it like a champ, there for others until the end.)

Keenly aware of how easily we can take time, and loved ones, for granted, I told myself repeatedly to appreciate these moments, absorb them fully, take it all in, the beauty of the day, the pain of the impending loss. We would never have it back. Not the dog, not the day, not the emotions. None of it.

Now, as I sit here less than 24 hours later trying to recapture those moments, the memories are already fading. Pictures are blurred, hazy, insufficient.

And if that isn’t a reason for profound sadness, I’m not sure what is.

Questions: The Regrets Edition (Part II)

Great answers to Part I of the regrets column. Here are my other 5 top regrets.

6) I regret being afraid of dying. In some ways, I feel my whole life’s purpose is to finally accept (at least on a Zen-like level) the inevitability of my death. Instead, the concept so terrifies me that it has clearly kept me from being as adventurous and/or productive as I could have been. A little caution can be a good thing, perhaps, but to live without fear of death sounds so freeing. (To be completely accurate, it’s more the pain of dying than the actual being dead part that scares me).

7) I regret being shy around girls. Ok, so it’s all good as I ended up finding this great awesome girl, but oh man, I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have caught the eye of a beautiful girl and wish I had gone up to her and introduced myself, make small chat, throw her a compliment, ask her on a date, etc. but instead only watched her walk away and out of my life forever. If I had chosen not to do any of those things because I thought it would be too forward and ungentlemanly or even creepy, that would be one thing. But me … I was mostly just scared, especially of rejection, and that’s just silly. Only the rejected can give rejection its power (Oh yeah, that’s like Tony Robbins good!)

8) I regret not being more serious about my writing. Even as a young kid, I fancied myself a writer. I remember creating a whole series of short stories, including a choose your own adventure (damn I loved those), about a porcupine named Kong. I had people who liked and encouraged my work, including a teacher I had in elementary school who took a bunch of my stories and compiled them in a pretty cool bound package and helped get one my tales published in a young children’s magazine (still one of my all-time great thrills).

I continued writing short stories and small pieces throughout college, but as time passed, I grew more discouraged. I would read stories by the masters, by authors I totally loved, and bemoan the fact I could never be as good as them. I experimented with longer forms of writing, including novels, but could never finish my projects. My imagination was lacking. My vocabulary was inadequate. My characters were cliched.

But if my writing was inadequate before, it’s only gotten worse. Writing is a skill that must be honed like any other and I unfortunately have written very little over the past five years – aside from these blog posts, of course. I think I convinced myself that writing was not as enjoyable as it used to be, but I wonder if maybe there’s something more going on here.

Because sometimes I think of how envious I am of the people who seem like they know what they’ve wanted to do since the day they were born, who have passion about something and pursue it with joy AND single-minded determination, a lethal combination for success. And then I think back to how I would spend hours as a young kid holed up in my room, composing stories, getting lost in the process, reveling in my own creations, and wonder if for me writing should have been that thing, and – note the emerging theme – I just was too afraid to pursue it. That my imagination was lacking, indeed.

9) I regret not doing more for my fellow man. This one is simple. I give to charity a decent amount, but not nearly enough. But more importantly, I should be more generous with my time. On this site, I’ve often complained about the lack of compassion certain members of society seem to have for their fellow humans, and yet I cannot honestly say I’ve done much to make a difference in this world. I talk a much better game than I do, and worry I just may be more selfish than I’d like to believe. Even when I try to do something charitable, I often do it begrudgingly and with the minimum effort, like the time several years back when I along with my brother mentored an inner-city student and helped sponsor his private Catholic school education. I did so little to really help that kid succeed, and embarrassingly, have since lost touch with him and his family.

10) I regret not going to California to watch the Northwestern Wildcats play in the Rose Bowl. OK, this is a small one, but when I was a senior in college, the Northwestern football team came out of nowhere – after decades of being the doormat of the Big Ten – to shock the world with a miraculous year for the ages. In one season, they beat Notre Dame, Michigan (in the Big House) and Penn State to win the Big Ten and earn their first appearance in the Rose Bowl in fifty years.

I saw every home game that year, and even a couple of away games, and that season easily stands as one of the top three sports fan experiences in my life. Many of my college friends went out to Pasadena during the Winter Break to cheer the team on, but I was a rather broke student and decided it would cost too much money. So I went home to St. Louis and watched the game on TV with some friends and family.

What a joke. You don’t get opportunities like that often, and when you do, money should hardly ever be the deciding factor. I know the advice to save and prepare for retirement or a rainy day has its merits – and especially sounds sage in tough economic times like the current ones – but money is merely a means to an end, nothing more. Be prudent, but have fun and take advantage of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities when they arise. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Questions: The Regrets Edition (Part I)

In a post long ago, I talked about regrets and how I view them as a natural part of the examined life, something to be embraced, not feared. A person who claims he has no regrets is either a magnificent liar or an unreflective fool.

You can learn a lot from your regrets, and the only goal should be to minimize their occurrence as you grow older.

I didn’t go into much detail discussing the specifics of my actual regrets, but I’ve now decided to list the top 10 regrets of my life to date, thinking that it could actually be a useful exercise for me and an enjoyable, potentially educational, but very long read for others (so long in fact that I’ve decided to divide the column into two).

Over at dagblog.com, each regret will be accompanied by a related question in the comment section for you to answer.

Some of these regrets are small, some are huge. Some are in the past, where nothing can be done about them, and some persist today. All contribute to who I am, and as the new Senator from Minnesota was known to say in a previous life, “And that’s … OK.”

1) I regret not lifting weights when I was going through puberty. Let’s start off small. I think a bit of strength training – not a crazy amount, mind you, just a little weightlifting – is much more impactful when your body is developing and maturing. I’m not very body obsessed, but I think being stronger would have helped in a bunch of different ways. At the very least, it would have made me a better baseball player, which would have been nice as not making the high school baseball team is another regret of mine (although not worth a top 10 since I did try out 3 times, getting cut each year, and I give myself props for that).

2) I regret not making the top 10 of my high school graduating class. This is actually a bit of an anomaly because if anything, I think I cared too much about grades and schoolwork. But there’s a reason why this stands out as a regret. I remember going to my brother’s graduation as a junior high schooler and seeing the ten students with the top 10 GPAs get recognized for their efforts – they were asked to stand and the crowd gave each of them a significant round of appreciative applause.

For some reason, I decided there and then that that was something I wanted to accomplish. It became a goal – a ridiculous and nerdy one to be sure, but a goal nonetheless. And it was in my grasp til the very end, as I got all A’s until my final semester of high school. But I didn’t do the extra effort to sneak into the top 10, refusing to do the term papers that would have gotten me the ‘H’ honors (and 5.0) grades in history that would have put me over the hump. This sounds like a small, almost stupid thing but in many ways its indicative of a lack of single-minded determination, which I think the most successful in society seem to have and I clearly don’t (an issue that comes up later in this post). I had a goal, I should have worked just a bit harder to achieve it, plain and simple.

3) I regret not living an extended period of time in a foreign country. This is pretty self-explanatory and clearly, the easiest, best time to do this would have been in college, studying abroad for a semester or year. To me, it’s a sign of me living scared and nervous about trying new things.

As a side regret, though it isn’t necessarily my fault, I regret not learning a foreign language (or two) earlier in life. Like developing muscles, languages are so much easier to learn when you’re young, and I automatically give people an extra ten points of respect and IQ when I hear they’re fluent in multiple languages. Unfortunately, the arrogant American public education system didn’t include foreign languages as part of its early education curriculum back when I was a kid (I think it might now, but in any case at least American kids today have the bilingual Dora). In the end, I took 6 years of French in high school and college and still could barely communicate with the Frenchies when I was in Paris for a trip about ten years back.

4) I regret not being nicer to my mother through my teenage and young adult life. My mom is awesome. She’s funny and social and loving and sensitive and generous, and full of so many endearing quirks. Everyone loves her. I do, too, of course, but there was a time when she embarrassed me. OK, she still does, but there was a time when I was way too annoyed by my embarrassment and wasn’t always so nice to her.

Nothing major, just small cutting comments or a general lack of affection. I know where I was coming from and what I was doing – just trying to rebel a bit. Like all good Jewish mothers, my mom is a bit smothering and neurotic and for much of my pre-teen life I was a big mama’s boy, and I probably overcompensated in my attempt to shed that image. I can now fully embrace that I am and will always be a mama’s boy. But I know there were times I hurt her when she did nothing wrong, and for that I am sorry.

5) I regret giving up acting in college. In high school, I was in many of the plays, and had decent-sized parts in a lot of them, except for the musicals because I can’t sing or dance (We did Fiddler on the Roof, and I – one of the few Jews in the production – had to play a Russian because of my limited skills). I really enjoyed acting, and thought I was pretty good at it (I knew I had some talent when during a final exam in a freshman acting class I was able to cry during a scene in which I played a father who found out his wife had left him. The tears even surprised me.)

I wasn’t perfect,  by any means – watching old tapes, I cringe at some of the tics I brought to the stage,  but I would have liked to continue to pursue acting. Didn’t think that would be an issue seeing as I was, after all, going to Northwestern University, which was known for its theater department. Unfortunately, freshman year I got paired up with a roommate who was majoring in theater and it discouraged me when I saw his commitment to the profession. I thought about performing as a lark, not necessarily a career, and my roommate and his theater friends were approaching it on a much different level. So I chickened out and never pursued it further. I’ve taken a couple of acting and improv classes to try and rekindle the magic, but I’m afraid that dream may be dead.

Questions: The Michael Jackson Edition

Michael Jackson dead?? That’s what the LA Times and AP are reporting, anyway (CNN hasn’t yet confirmed). Unbelievable.

Earlier today, my brother was bemoaning Farrah Fawcett’s death, trying to come to grips with the loss of his most common inspiration for those special, intimate teenage moments. (I kind of remember Farrah as being a sexy icon, but she was a bit before my prime mastubatory years).

Michael Jackson, however, was kind of like my Beatles. So I’m in shock, and surprisingly sad to learn of his premature death.

Thriller may be the album (and I do mean ‘album’) I remember playing the most as a child. I remember ordering and breathlessly awaiting a Michael Jackson biography from one of those Scholastic book forms we used to get as kids (I think it was called Thriller).

And despite all his successes, to me he seemed like such a tragic figure.

To honor of the loss of the undisputed King of Pop, I present the Michael Jackson edition of Questions.

1) What’s the first word you think of when I say Michael Jackson?

2) What Michael Jackson songs/albums do you have on your IPod?

3) Which Michael Jackson song is your favorite? (Jackson 5 Tunes included)

4) What about your favorite Michael Jackson video?

5) Which non-musical Michael Jackson moment/situation do you think is most memorable (eg moonwalk dance, neverneverland, plastic surgery, pepsi ads, his kiss/marriage with Lisa Marie, his pedophile trials, his fatherhood (baby holding), etc.)

6) Did you think Michael Jackson was guilty of pedophilia? If you think he was, as I do, do you also think, as I do, that he in some ways was as much of a victim as perpetrator given his unusual upbringing? Or do you think there can be no excuses for that kind of crime (pointing out that none of his siblings have ever been accused of similar behavior)

7) In the entertainment world, whose death do you think would generate more international attention and sadness than Michael Jackson?

8) Give me the over/under on how long it takes for a book publisher to take advantage of his death by coming out with a new Michael Jackson title? Will the book come out before the first posthumous record album? Will it be written by a Jackson family member, and if so, which one?

9) Why do you think Michael Jackson got all those plastic surgeries? Do you really believe it was medically necessary as he asserted once on Oprah (I think)? Couldn’t he tell the damage he was doing?

10) Some dude on CNN just compared Michael Jackson to John Lennon? Whose death was the bigger shock? Which one was the better performer? More influential musician?

Questions: The Ipod Shuffle Edition …

Partly inspired by Prophet and his ongoing top 10 albums of 2008 series, and partly because I’m otherwise uninspired, I’ve decided to take a different tact for this week’s questions: I am going to press shuffle on my IPod Nano and create a question somehow related to each of the first 10 songs that come up. I will also be giving some very quick commentary on the songs.

I am uncertain how well this process will lend itself to thought-provoking questions, and I will certainly be risking great personal embarrassment by exposing my music collection to the dagworld at large, but I am game if you are.

I reserve the right to skip any song that has no lyrics, has nonsensical lyrics, or is just too damn mortifying (even for me, who may be the most shameless person I know). Power on … press shuffle … and here we go …

1) Gone Daddy Gone. Gnarles Barkley. A fine opener. Good, fun beat. Like almost all Gnarles songs, doesn’t overstay its welcome. My rating 8/10.

Lyric: Beautiful girl lovely dress. High school smiles oh yes. Beautiful girl lovely dress. Where she is now I can only guess?

Q: What percentage of former lovers have you kept in contact with?

2) Cry Baby, Janis Joplin. Has any singer been more fierce than Janis? Look at the lyrics alone, and it seems like she is playing the weak woman, basically begging a man to come back to her … and yet with that voice, you can’t help but also hear the implied threat – ‘You want something to cry about, I’ll give you something to cry about!’ 7/10.

Lyric: I know you got more tears to share babe,  so come on, come on, come on, come on, come on, and cry, cry baby.

Q:  How often do you cry.  When was the last time you cried?

3) Circle Game, Joni Mitchell. Kind of funny that Joni comes right after Janis. They both have such powerful instruments with their voices yet use them in such different ways. I love songs – or any art, for that matter – that inspire melancholic, nostalgic thoughts, and this one does that for me. It’s a simple, beautiful melody. The lyrics and metaphor are a bit cliched, perhaps, but it doesn’t bother me one whit. 8/10.

Lyric: Take your time, it won’t be long now ’til you drag your feet to slow the circles down.

Q: If you could pick one year to be forever, what age would you choose and why?

4) Handsome Devil, The Smiths. Some songs I’m not sure how they got on my IPod. The beat’s OK but doesn’t do much for me, and the lead singer’s voice is a bit grating. But damn, the lyrics are nasty, so I have to give it some props for that. 5/10.

Lyric: Let me get my hands on your mammary glands, and let me get your head on the conjugal bed.

Q: What was your first experience with porn? What were your thoughts about it?

5) Believe, Cher. OK, this is one that comes very close to being too mortifying, and if I had any real shame, I’d never admit I had this song on this IPod. I sure as hell wouldn’t admit that I can’t help but wanna dance when I hear this song or that this ain’t even close to being the only Cher song on my Ipod. The computerized voice vibrato effects on this number are particularly gratifying. Really. 6/10.

Lyric: Do you believe in life after love?

Q: Well, do you? More specifically, the last time someone broke up with you, did you ever, even for a moment, think you wouldn’t be able to deal? How long did it take for you to get over it?

6) Think I’m in Love, Beck. This may not be one of Beck’s best songs, but it’s definitely one of his more approachable, comprehensible ones. Good beat. Like the violin transition about halfway through and at the end. No one does awkward, desperate romance better than Beck. 7/10.

Lyric: I think I’m in love, but it makes me kinda nervous to say so …

Q: Have you ever had feelings for someone, a friend perhaps, and never told them? Do you regret it?

7) Knocking on Heaven’s Door. Guns n Roses. Axl & Co. do a fine job with their cover of this classic Dylan song, revving up the guitars and rockness factor while otherwise staying mostly true to the original. Could do without some of the bells and whistles, like the gun sound effects and answering machine message, but you gotta love the way Axl belts out ‘Door-oor-oooor.’ 6/10.

Lyric: It’s getting dark, too dark to see. I’m feeling like I’m knocking on Heaven’s door.

Q: Do you want to be conscious when you die, to feel life leave you, or would you rather be unaware?

8) What a Wonderful World. Louis Armstrong. OK, it’s treacly, and trite, and we know the world isn’t always wonderful, or maybe even usually. But like Obama and his soaring rhetoric of hope and optimism, I believe in what Louis is selling. Ooooohhhhhh, yeeaaaahhh. 7/10.

Lyric: I see friends shaking hands, saying how do you do? They’re really sayin’ ‘I love you’

Q: Do we as a general rule say I love you too often, sapping power from the phrase by using it too freely, or do we not say it enough, and by being so reserved not let people know how much they matter to us?

9) Let it be, Beatles. Just a beautiful song. Lovely piano playing, and god, Paul can sing. When I was in St. Louis for the Thanksgiving holiday, our family saw this Beatles retrospective at a local playhouse, and it was hilarious watching them try to recapture the Beatles’ magic. Beatles cover bands should be banned but Beatles cover bands with a fat and old Paul should be fined and/or jailed. 9/10.

Lyric: And when the broken-hearted people living in the world agree, There will be an answer, let it be.

Q: What’s your favorite Beatles song?

10) Black Acres, Elysian Fields. A sexy, sultry song to close it out. An entrancing bass beat, with beautiful violin and piano throughout. You can’t help but feel a little Randy (or in my case, a little Keri Wink) when the lead singer raspily declares, ‘Touch me now, Touch me, Black Acres are Claiming Me.” 8/10.

Lyric: He holds me up like a babe, pressing close. I can’t behave. I need to have this little death.

Q: If orgasms weren’t free, but could only be had by buying them on the open market, how much would you pay for one? How many would you buy in a week?

OK, this was fun, Will have to do it again sometime. Remember check out this post at dagblog.com for answers to these questions …

Yo Deadman, please don’t hurt ‘em …

Ring the bell, school’s back in, break it down … Stop. Question time!

10) Ok, several days have passed. Are you still smiling and dancing, or do you find yourself suffering a bit from some sort of post-partum-like depression?

9) Not that I would know anything about this, but which is a more important element of looking good on the dance floor: Rhythm or self-confidence?

8) So I turned 35 this week. Is it lame that one of the things that most annoys me about this age is that I can no longer check off the 18-34 age group in surveys?

7) My awesome girlfriend got me one of those comfy leather recliners for my birthday (we once got in a fight because she said she thought those chairs were ugly and didn’t want one in her apartment while I insisted they were one of man’s god-given rights), and I have now fallen asleep while watching TV on that chair each of the past several nights. Have I become my dad?

6) Why or how did humans evolve so that they crave and demand variety in their meals? Every day, my dog acts like a Democrat who just found out Obama has won the presidency (i.e. like a delirious nut bag) when I take a scoop into his jar of food, even though I’m preparing to give him the exact same crap I always do. It seems like it’d be so much easier and more efficient if we humans could also be content eating the same thing every day.

5) Which is worse: Sarah Palin’s ignorance; the McCain advisers who chose Palin despite her ignorance; or the fact that those same advisers are now just piling on, anonymously leaking to the press more examples of that ignorance and suggesting she torpedoed the campaign?

4) One of the ironies of the election was that the heavy black turnout caused by Obama’s candidacy contributed to the passage of Prop 8 in California, which outlaws gay marriages. Do you believe the civil rights struggle of homosexuals is equivalent to the African-American struggle. If not, what is the difference? (This is not a trick question; I think there can be legitimate debate here, though in the end I personally don’t think there’s a difference.)

3) If you could find out the exact date of your death, but couldn’t do anything to change it, would you want to know? If you found out you were going to die within the next 12 months, what would be the biggest change you’d make in your life?

2) I have plenty of regrets in my life. One of them I remember well is telling a childhood friend in first grade that there was no Santa Claus, which was a really crappy thing to do (especially so cuz I’m Jewish). Do you remember when you first found out there was no Santa Claus and what was your reaction? (My apologies if I have once again spilled the beans and destroyed any delusions you may harbor).

1) Please look at the attached map below. It’s a graphical display of the voting trends in Tuesday’s election compared to 2004. The blue sections are areas where people voted more heavily Democratic; the bluer the section, the bigger the change.

Which of the following facts does this map reveal (Choose all that apply): a) The Republican brand and agenda is dying b) The Democratic brand and agenda is ascending c) Barack Obama was a better candidate than John Kerry or d) Damn, the South is disturbingly full of racists, esp. Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

2208 Voting Trends

Question time …

Happy Halloween all! Last week, I threw out a bunch of questions I had been asking myself lately, and people seemed to enjoy the post, responding with some incredibly wise and insightful, or at least terribly smartass, answers. So, I figured I’d do it again, maybe even make it a weekly thing. Without further ado …

1) Will there be more Jokers or Joe the Plumbers out there tonight? (If you’re answering this and Halloween is already over, reply with the actual answer)

2) Why do parents wait until the last minute to buy Halloween costumes? The costume place by me was absolutely crawling with kids last night, and there was a line to get in the store. Don’t they know it comes the same time every year?

3) If you win a World Series and no one in the world is watching, have you really won a World Series? (No offense, Philly fans, I’m just so happy you out-underrated the 2006 World Series, when my Cardinals won the title and no one seemed to care because a New York and Boston team wasn’t playing)

4) Agree or disagree: Obama’s non-selection of Hillary as VP was one of his best moves of the campaign. I say yes, and not because Biden’s been a big help (I’m a fan but he’s been a neutral at best), but by not picking Hilary, it led McCain straight to Palin’s frigid Alaskan door, and that’s a gift that keeps on giving (They’re now talking about her as a leading candidate in 2012, which boggles the mind but warms the heart)

5) Give me your best guess of the percentages for voter turnout as well as Obama’s popular vote total on Tuesday? I say 64 and 53, respectively.

6) Can you think of any any worse, more terrfiying way to die than in an airplane crash? I’m talking only about relatively common and immediate forms of death, so no death by testicle tickle torture or long terminal illness. Seriously, the idea of having to endure ten or more minutes of being able to do nothing but imagine your imminent death while being surrounded by screaming people and unbelievable turbulence as a 100,000 lb. aircraft hurtles earthward at an accelerating pace, frightens me to no end. But maybe that’s just me.

7) Genghis got me thinking with his W. movie review, what was the last good Oliver Stone movie?

8) When was the last time you listened to music on a terrestrial radio that wasn’t in a car? Talk about a dead medium. And good riddance.

9) It’s not because of radio’s demise, but I feel I’ve stopped learning about good new music. How can I fix that?

10) And finally, shifting to a much more exciting medium, please rank the following positive, life-changing attributes of the Internet in order of greatness:

  1. E-commerce (Amazon, ebay, craigslist)
  2. E-mail and IM
  3. Comparison Shopping and Reviews
  4. Online gaming (social and multimedia)
  5. Facebook. Social Networking and the ability to transcend physical borders
  6. Maps and Step-by-step directions
  7. Free Porn available in any fetish imaginable
  8. Search, Wikipedia and the ability to find almost any piece of info
  9. dagblog.com
  10. Other (List your own piece of Internet enjoyment)

Crying over a stranger …

It’s amazing the ways a life can touch another.

Leroy Sievers was a respected and accomplished journalist, covering wars and conflicts all over the globe for CBS News and Nightline, winning a bunch of Emmys and a couple of Peabodys in the process, and yet I think it’s fair to say that none of his work likely had as much of an impact as did his very public battle with cancer.

I found his My Cancer Blog on NPR about the time I started this blog, doing research for a book idea I was considering. His site was a refreshing, funny, candid, brave, detailed look at the day-to-day reality of living with cancer and it kept me coming back regularly.

I wouldn’t be able to recognize Sievers on the street, and less than two months ago had never even heard of his name, yet I totally broke down when I logged on today and read that Sievers finally lost his 2 1/2 year fight.

It’s eerie now to go back and read some of his last posts, watching his messages became shorter and shorter, filled with cryptic references like ‘one last secret wave’ and ‘long and sleepless nights’, and then reading about his decision to bring in a hospital bed and, finally, a hospice team.

His last post was about ‘a boy and his dog,’ a heartbreaking reference to the stuffed animal keeping him comfort as his condition worsened.

It reminded me of watching my grandmother during her final days, sleeping fitfully and dreaming about who knows what – pleasant and pain-free days hopefully – as she snuggled a small throw pillow tightly to her chest, just as an infant holds a blanket. I guess if we live long enough, we leave this world not much differently than as we enter it.

I wasn’t the only one moved by Sievers’ blog. It clearly resonated with his thousands of loyal readers, all of whom seemingly have felt cancer’s sting in one way or another and many of whom revealed their own emotional stories in the comments sections.

These people were all strangers, and yet they came to the site each day, to send prayers to Leroy, to commiserate with him over his struggles and to discuss their own battles, to celebrate the victories, small and big ones alike, and to mourn the losses, hardly any of them small ones.

Mostly, they came to the site to provide a much-needed source of support and advice for each other. In other words, Leroy’s blog became this massive community, and it is quite easy to tell from comments left after the news hit that his readers took on his fight as their own, and that none of them will soon forget him or the lessons his life – and death – provided.

And that is truly an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Positively Posthumous …

My mom’s mom was far from the best person in the world (This is not the grandmother I discussed a couple weeks ago). She held grudges and often spoke ill of others, including family. She was racist. She belittled and insulted my grandfather, only becoming the dutiful, loving wife after he had a massive stroke and lacked the capacity to resist her will. Coulda-beens and shoulda-beens, what-ifs and if-onlys tormented her soul, and she let that bitterness infect the way she interacted with the world.

I knew all this well, and yet when the time came to give my grandmother’s eulogy, I merely skirted these negative qualities, passing it off with a line like, ‘My grandmother in some ways taught me as much or more about how not to live as how to live.” The rest of the speech focused on her sense of humor, her vitality, and what is still – for me – the most relevant and core aspect of her life, the enormous love and support she showed me and the rest of her grandchildren.

I felt somewhat uncomfortable portraying my grandmother in such a positive light, when I knew the story was a much more complicated one. But speaking of the dead, when the full truth may not be all that heart-warming, is a tricky and delicate issue.

For instance, I took offense to many of the obituaries for Senator Jesse Helms, which glibly tried to explain away his strict segregationist philosophies (not to mention a number of his other hateful beliefs) by declaring them typical for other Southern white men of his generation. Unbelievably, some of the stories almost seemed to praise Helms for sticking to his guns while most of his colleagues eventually became more enlightened.

But it’s not just the way we gloss over the flaws of the dead that betrays the truth; we also tend to exaggerate their strengths as well. A recent example: Heath Ledger. I know he was a pretty talented actor, and from what I’ve read, a very decent fellow.

But being sad about troubled young actors and mourning the lost promise isn’t enough for our celebrity-crazed culture; we need to lionize them in the process.

So it’s no surprise that reviews for the new Batman movie and Ledger’s performance in it as the Joker have bordered on the hyperventilatingly positive (The AP called it an ‘epic that will leave you staggering.’ An Arizona paper called it ‘tantamount … to Michaelangelo’s David’).

I saw the movie this past weekend, and it was a decent B- at best, nowhere near as good as the fabulous Batman Begins. The plot was convoluted, the pace dragged and the climax disappointed. I have to wonder if critics in their reviews of the movie as a whole weren’t somehow influenced by Ledger’s premature death.

Now, Ledger did give a great, entertaining performance, about as nuanced and layered as you could expect for what is, in essence, a one-note (i.e. ‘fucked-up crazy’) cartoon clown villain.  But is it worthy of the multiple calls for a posthumous Oscar nomination? Too early to say for sure, but my guess is there will probably end up being at least five more impressive supporting actor performances before the year ends. Plus, I’m not sure if there’s ever been an Oscar nomination for an acting role in a comic book movie.

Posthumously giving an award nomination to a guy who probably wouldn’t have received it had he been alive certainly isn’t the worst crime in the world. It’s actually a nice gesture. But it isn’t exactly the truth either.

Linkgasmic …

The Internet is making us lazy, shortening our attention span, dulling our senses.

We still read, but our eyes glaze over anything more than a couple of paragraphs (140 words or less please).

We still listen to music, but now download a single onto our IPod one day and forget about it the next (how quaint the concept album now seems).

We still have friends, but now often substitute brief, vacuous messages or a ‘Second Life’ for physical contact and real intimacy.

Face(book!) it, we’re becoming Twitter-ized. (If only the Internet hadn’t made me so damn lazy, I’d trademark The Twitter Generation).

Yet despite all of the Web’s negative influences on society and human behavior,  the Internet remains the greatest invention of my lifetime, and I can barely imagine living without it anymore.

The other night, doing research on why we treat dying humans so much worse than dying animals, proved once again why the Interweb is so fucking great. I started with a relatively simple search on Yahoo and ended up lost in a fascinating – often only tangentially related – linkgasmic maze of stories, personal blogs, government sites, message boards, news articles, research reports and literature analysis.

I figured it’d be interesting, using Firefox’s library tool, to give you a brief recap of my hyperlink adventure (obviously leaving out the parts where I got sidetracked into watching some porn).

I knew I wanted to somehow incorporate Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do Not Go Gentle …’ poem in the headline for my post so I did a Yahoo search and visited a poetry site which included the full poem and a cool audio reading, as well as a number of other poems about aging. One of my favorites was ‘Affirmation‘ by Donald Hall (I love the line – “To grow old is to lose everything”), though I wasn’t sure what it all meant so I did another search and checked out this Yahoo Answers page.

Then it was on to the main subject. I did a search on ‘putting animals to sleep pain’ cause I wanted to see if indeed the process was as painless as I had thought. I read an ‘Ask the Rabbi’ site for one viewpoint and explored a couple related questions. I then checked out a more negative article which stated that the sight of the needle and the injection of lethal drugs causes animals way too much anxiety and pain. Next, it was off to a somewhat grisly report on lab rat euthanasia. And finally, I read the official stance from the Humane Society.

Next, it was time to research human euthanasia, and I started at the Wikipedia entry, where I learned more about some of the rather reasonable reasons people are against the practice (not the least of which was the fact the Nazis gave it a pretty bad name), which challenged my preconceived notion that it was all about religion.

The Wikipedia page led me to a message board discussion on the ethics of doctor-assisted euthanasia, where one of the responses mentioned the Nancy Crick case, which shows just how complicated the issue is (Crick said she was suffering terribly from bowel cancer and eventually killed herself, but apparently the problem was not cancer – none was found in the autopsy – but potentially fixable damage caused by previous cancer-related surgeries).

Reading up on the Crick case led me to the questionably named Compassionate Healthcare Network, an anti-euthanasia site that informed me of Oregon’s Dignity with Dying Act. It actually pointed me to some not-so-distressing stats regarding that particular law as well as one absolutely fascinating story of a woman putting the law in practice. The author notes that while the woman in the story lay dying, her brother read from William Wordsworth’s ‘Intimations of Immortality,’ …

… which led me full circle back to reading about poetry on aging. Of course, Wordsworth wasn’t a big fan of materialism and instead got turned on by ‘splendor in the grass’ and ‘thoughts … too deep for tears’, so I’m going to guess he wouldn’t have been a big fan of the Internet. As for me, I absolutely love ‘Intimations’, but damn, it’s long! Who’s got time to read all those words?? :-)

Fade, Fade With the Dying of the Light …

(Continued from Part 1)

… I told my dad after my grandmother died that I believe we will one day in the not-too-distant future view the way we currently handle death and dying as barbaric. Tip-toeing around the subject – by removing machines or using copious amounts of morphine as a way to hasten death – seemed quite silly to me when the issue was as important as watching a loved one suffer unnecessarily.

He disagreed, stating that we need to let nature run its course, which came as little surprise to me since he’s a pretty religious man. In Judaism, as in most major religions, life is sacred and suicide is viewed as immoral (and in some doctrines, just cause for an unpleasant afterlife). Life and death decisions are to be made by god and no one else … which of course, is utterly asinine since we intervene all the time in such decisions, especially when it comes to modern medicine (Are we not playing god when we cure polio, perform open-heart surgery, implant an artificial organ, etc?). Indeed, it’s often technology and our own ‘intervention’ that keeps some people alive past the point when bodies often break down, and yet we dare deny those people the right to use that same technology to end a life they may consider too painful to endure.

The motivation for this subject came the other night when my brother and I discussed the possibility that his 16-year-old dog Lucky had a brain tumor. If Lucky’s test results came back positive for cancer, then the decision to eventually put that sweet, lovable black beagle/cocker to sleep would in some ways be no decision at all: There is no way he would let that dog suffer in pain during the last days of his long, happy life.

And it strikes me as quite ridiculous that society accepts and even approves of the idea of easing a suffering animal’s pain by giving them a dignified death, and yet generally views euthanasia (which literally translates into ‘good death’) or assisted suicide for terminally sick human beings as a crime.

Of course, I am aware this issue can lead to some slippery slopes, as decisions could end up being made rashly, or for the wrong reasons, either by the patient or the family or the doctors. However, Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, which was passed 10 years ago and allows doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminal patients, has shown that adequate safeguards can be put in place to limit these concerns.

Oregon’s law wouldn’t have applied to my grandmother anyway as her end came with little warning, and – though it didn’t seem so at the time – happened fairly quickly.

I honestly have no idea what my grandmother would have done had she had the opportunity or ability to end her life even more quickly.

She was a fighter, so maybe she still would have chosen to rage against the dying of the light. Maybe with her entire family surrounding and supporting her, she found some meaning or comfort in those final days, in that final struggle. I can only hope so …

Go Gentle Into That Good Night …

95-plus years old, maybe 58 inches tall, maybe 80 pounds big. A colon that had stopped working. A silenced voice that could no longer tell her gathered family she loved them. Lips that were dried and cracked. A sunken face grimacing with each wheezing, irregular, hard-earned breath.

This is the opponent Death chose to take on in February 2007. But if He expected a quick battle, then He hadn’t been paying attention.

My grandmother did not fear death, had even intimated to my parents at times that she was more than ready for it, but she couldn’t help but fight back … at least for a while. Fighting back and staying strong was what she had done her whole life – like when she overcame rheumatic fever as a small baby living in impoverished Russia (when neighbors were telling her parents to ‘get rid’ of her in the river), like when she traveled the long journey to America at the age of nine with only her siblings, like when she was widowed and not yet 50, like when she first got colon cancer in her early 80s, like when she lost most of her sight to macular degeneration.

My grandmother couldn’t help but fight back, and god bless her indomitable spirit, but part of me wondered why all the obvious suffering was necessary. As hard as it was to do, we knew when it was time to let her go. We tried to make it as quick as possible. We took away the machinery and most of the wires. The nurses plied her with morphine whenever pain creased her face. But still she fought … and suffered. Of course she fought. That’s what living things do when Death approaches, and brave fighters like my grandmother do it stronger and longer than most.

But when the fight is so unfair, when all know Death is the certain winner, and the end is a matter of days or even hours, isn’t there a better way …?

(To be continued tomorrow)

What now??

OK, so now what? Why did I reserve this domain name? Why am I starting the blog? And what will this blog end up being?

Good questions all. First, a little background. I work in the financial services industry but I’ve always had an interest in writing (I’m a former journalist) and over the years have tried my hand at various projects, most of which withered on my hard drives unfinished, and none of which I’ve showed anyone but the closest of friends and family.  But at least I was writing; for the past several years, even that rather sad, lackluster Muse of mine seems to have taken an indefinite leave of absence.

But within the past couple of months, an idea has been percolating in my head to write a novel about a slacker who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and decides to finally make his mark on the world by starting a blog called Dead Man Blogging, which he basically uses to track his journey toward Death. In the process, he gets into a rivalry with another cancer blogger, who is actually faking his illness.

Like most of my ideas, I only have a very general outline of the plot and little idea how the story will end (which may be why most of my projects don’t get completed), but I envision it potentially addressing a whole bunch of larger themes: The ways in which virtual communities and relationships lack as adequate substitute for real ones; the protean nature of identity on the Internet; the sanity of insanity; the end of detached, ironic postmodernism and the beginning of something both more involved and yet more bathetic; and yes, the importance of living every day like its your last. In short, it’ll likely be a bunch of crap that could probably be somewhat decent in the hands of a more skilled writer.

As usual, I found myself procrastinating when it came to actually writing the damn thing, so I decided in the meantime to at least reserve this URL, which I thought was a pretty decent one anyway, and pretend I was moving ahead with the book.

At first, I planned on turning the site into some sort of meta-project where I’d make like it was actually being written by the main character in the book (and thus in some way I’d end up being like his not-sick rival blogger/poseur), but thought better of it after spending some time reading a blog from a real cancer patient – one of the saddest, bravest, and most compelling tales i’ve read in some time. it seems a bit cruel to pretend you have a terminal disease when there are so many people out there really fighting the fight and so many others who then get invested in those fights as if they were their own.

So instead, I’m going to use this blog in a similar way that most people do – as a quasi-diary, quasi-OpEd page. And in the process, it’ll hopefully give me more inspiration and food for thought for my story (at the very least, it will get me back in the habit of writing, which I have totally lost) . These first two postings have been very long, but I envision the rest of the blog will consist of very short posts where I sound off about any number of topics on my mind – religion, politics, love, work, friendship, my past, my family, my life (and yes, my death too). From the broad to the narrow, the personal to the universal, the deep to the trivial, basically anything and everything will be fair game, and I’m hoping to write something at least five days a week. It won’t always be insightful, or even interesting, but it will be honest. That much I promise.

I am a Dead Man …

I am a dead man.

Not in the literal sense, of course. My flesh is warm and my blood is pumping. And not, as far as i know, in the imminent sense either. I’m sure I’ve somehow jinxed myself by registering this domain name and starting this blog, but I am only in my mid-thirties, and as an American white male should thus reasonably expect to live at least another forty or so years.

But I am still a dead man. In the end, the end is all there is. And for whatever reason, I’ve always been convinced that mine was going to be an untimely end (before the age of 40 is what I used to tell people, though I often find myself becoming a less specific fortune teller the closer I get to that milestone).

To my chagrin, I’ve lately been sensing the specter of ‘Pale Death … knocking with impartial foot’. His looming presence is beginning to consume me, to fill more and more of my restful moments with dread and unease. When I’m sitting alone, in the silence of the night, I feel tumors spreading, aneurysms popping, hearts stopping.

The fear is likely unwarranted. Aside from an accelerating list of aches and pains that I attribute almost as much to a keen and sharply honed sense of hypochondria as I do to run-of-the-mill aging,  I believe I’m relatively healthy. My family doesn’t have the best genes – cancer, heart disease, diabetes are all likely swimming laps somewhere in my gene pool – but three of my four grandparents lived until their 80s, and no one that I know of in my immediate-ish family died prior to their fortieth birthday.

Yet I can’t escape this sense of foreboding. And I’m not entirely sure I want to, either. Fear of death can be paralyzing, but it can also produce good. Indeed, man’s greatest tragedy may just be that despite being confronted with death constantly, despite watching it slouch closer and closer from pet to grandparent to parent to friend to spouse, with each step gaining relevance and menace, that he remains incapable of truly imagining himself on his own death bed … at least not for a prolonged enough period of time to make a difference.

For if you could just somehow carry around the intensity of watching up close a loved one die, take that pain and suffering and heaviness and wear it on you like some sort of morbid talisman (Ivan Ilych’s ‘Respice Finem’ medallion, perhaps), a constant reminder that you were destined to one day meet the same fate, wouldn’t you change things? You’d bungee jump, and dance til 3, and learn another language, and travel to every continent, and leave the office on time to have dinner with the kids, right?

Surely, if you knew you were going to die in six months, you wouldn’t spend your final days watching VH1 reality shows (as awesome as they are). You wouldn’t be as annoyed at the person who bumped into you on the subway. You wouldn’t deny yourself a trip to visit your parents or a much-needed getaway vacation because you’re worried about having enough money in your savings account. And you certainly wouldn’t be as bothered by the fact that flash-based photography now provides clear and convincing evidence that you will one day soon be as bald as your dad. You’d be nicer, more generous, more thoughtful, more patient, more loving, more adventurous, more appreciative. Wouldn’t you?

And if you had a dream of being a writer, of maybe writing the next great american novel, you surely wouldn’t push it aside just for some silly reason like you know you’re not capable of it, that you’re not talented enough, nor determined enough, and that in the end you know you’ll be laughed at.

I saw this documentary on the Yankee great Mickey Mantle last month. He always thought – and for much more legitimate reasons than i have – that he was going to die young, so he lived hard and experienced much. He could have been a better person and father, and sure, he had regrets at the end, but who doesn’t? We have it so ass-backward as a society – to work so hard, and struggle so much, while we’re in the prime of our lives, only to hopefully have a few good, peaceful years At the end

… we are all dead men. The why may remain a mystery, but the how, what, where and when will all be revealed in due time. But likely not in time for us to change who we are, what we’ve accomplished, how we’ll be remembered.

We are all dead men.  It’s time to live life accordingly.


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