Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Prayer for the Dying

There is a point that one reaches in life where the reality of mortality comes face to face with the reality of living. Where the inevitable fate that awaits all of us runs pace with the requirements of living. Work, mopping, paying taxes-they all compete with the desire to experience life rather than maintaining it.

Recently I saw a commercial for an anti-aging cream. The promise that the collagens encapsulated within the unguent would restore voids created by the loss of moisture in the sub dermal layers of the skin. Collagen is contained in the connective tissue found in cartilage and muscles. It’s the protein rich stuff that binds while giving flexibility to the structures it is entwined in. It’s also the stuff that cooks out of meat. The matrix formed of the proteins that gives meat sauces the rich velvety texture that we devour. We lose it and then reclaim it in our diets. And now, we want to rub it on our skin to re-plump ourselves to the bodies of our youth.

What I found more interesting was that while people are looking in the mirror day after day trying to slow the process of aging, they are asleep to the fact that their thoughts are focused on the wrong loss. While youth is slowly leaving them, the locus of their angst blinds them to the fact that they are missing the life that they have. A blind eye misses the gift in front of them. The here and now.

One of the most difficult challenges I have come to realize is, as actors refer to as, “being in the moment”. That’s spending time appreciating the experience that life is. Not looking backward or forward. Just being “in the now”.

Being middle aged kind of sucks. The waistline spreads. Muscles and joints ache. The body that I dwell in has started to fail. I realized it one afternoon when I dropped an object to the ground. Instead of quickly bending over and picking the dropped item up, I found myself maneuvering to hold against the wall and I struggled to pick it up. In my minds eye, I saw myself as an eighty year old man. Oddly, I wasn’t sad, just aggravated. The clash of the desire to move, based the sense memory of being a youth, collided with the body that could no longer accommodate the actions of my intentions.

The typical American reaction to this moment of age awareness is to take collagen rendered from the left over body parts of chickens, pigs and cows and slather on my skin in hopes that I can fend aging, and more to the point, death off. The reality is I can’t. So what am I to do?

Step 1: Understand that this day comes once.

No “do-overs”. You’ve got one shot at today. Lull yourself into a distraction, watch another rerun and you will have squandered what you will never have again. Wake up and inhale every sensation. Blink and it’s gone.

Step 2: Know that tomorrow is not guaranteed.

If you could have a conversation with the dead who passed today, chances are few of them expected it was their last day. But the slip on the ice, the fallen power line, the drunk driver who never intended to hurt a soul-all are out there where you are not looking for them.

Step 3: Don’t look back.

Okay, we learn from our experiences. The trick is not to dwell on them. Take them in and get on with it. You will never be 1 second younger. You are 1 second younger than you will be by the time you get to the end of this sentence. Why spend your energy trying to hang on to the image of who you were. Embrace who you are and what your life is right now.

One of my favorite ads was for a chocolate company. The headline read something like this: “No one ever lies on their death bed wishing they’d eaten another rice cake”. While the ad was more about yielding to the temptations of consuming a pleasurable foodstuff, the point is valid. When you are facing the final moments of your life, do you really want to look back and say “that’s it”? No, I want my life to reflect this quote that I could find no attribution for:

“Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, your body thoroughly used up, totally worn out. You last thought being “what a ride”.” -Unknown

For the past five or six years, my goal has been to make everyday count. Not to live for the weekend, or to look back and say “where did the week go”? No, I’m living with the idea that I know and can account for every second that was left in the stream of my life’s timeline. That said, I’ll leave the collagen in the gravy and off my face because wrinkles are the least of my concerns. It’s the living that makes the wrinkles that count.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


There is a myth that we parents are the protectors of our children. It is an illusionary belief that we can hold at arm’s length against the realities of the world. When our children are young, we ourselves are indoctrinated into this belief. Shielders in the battle. Guardians at the gate, holding the evils of the world within our power. But as time and the seasons change, we and our children come face to face with the reality that life is cruel, and more importantly beyond our control. The illusion of having the answers and the formulae for keeping the boogie man at bay is revealed as a falsehood.

Life chooses to come at you slowly. Or so it seems as the flow of years ticks by in a seemingly endless stream of seconds. A cold in the middle of the night. A virus that disrupts the calm of the day to day. Rocking away tears until the heave of deep sleep signals that the battle has been won. Each of those seconds seemed an eternity at the time, but the cosmic joke of perception turns in on itself to reveal that those endless days and decades have been wisps in the fabric of the continuum. We stand at the doorway to the past and see that the journey has been brief. I long for those moments to return.

I have had the good fortune to have been the father of two wonderful daughters. It’s hard to explain the place they have in my heart. They are entrenched in the very fibers of the muscles of that meaty pump, pulsing as it beats its cadence in my chest. Their names spelled in the minutia of the vesicles, hidden among the arteries.

On September 22nd at 5:18 pm EDT, the autumnal equinox will occur as the earth shifts on its axis and the northern hemisphere moves toward the sun. The irony is that as the northern half of the planet reaches toward the sun, the planet as a whole shifts further away from the sun. Winter ensues and the balance of the seasons remains intact.

I can’t help but dwell on this-the balance of change. The shock of the new in the cycle of the familiar. To embrace change is to embrace chaos. Grasping at familiar straws thrown in a new pattern. You long for the old patterns, not realizing that the new patterns will yield new unexpected joys and unforeseen sorrows.

I look to my daughters, helpless as life envelopes them. The torrents they are navigating and I stand helpless on the shore. The battle is no longer mine. They have stepped full force into the life stream. Heartaches are at moments counterbalanced with joys they never knew existed. And, while these moments seem an eternity, it is my desire that they recognize each moment for the fleeting treasure that it is-good or bad. Because one day they will also see the sum of those seconds yields one lifetime. If they do, it will be a life well lived.