Tag Archives: life

Death and Time

The death of actress and national icon Betty White on New Year’s Eve 2021 has left many of us here in the United States shocked and despondent.  White was just 17 days shy of her 100th birthday; an event which she and the rest of us looked forward to celebrating.  Now she’s gone.  Suddenly.  None of us really saw this coming.  How could this happen?  Why?  But none of us should be shocked.

Death doesn’t honor our designated times of order.  My paternal grandfather once said that he respected death because it bears no prejudice.  It takes who it wants when it wants.  According to my father it was painful for him to admit even that much; as he had seen so many very young people and/or very good people suffer an untimely demise throughout his time on Earth.  My grandfather died in 1969, and my father didn’t fully comprehend the meaning of what the old man had said until some years later.

Perhaps it’s easy for we older folks to have a more cynical if not sedate view of death.  I’m at the point where I know I have more years behind than ahead of me.  But currently I feel I’m surrounded by people enduring serious health struggles.  A close friend is showing signs of Parkinson’s.  Another friend is dealing with liver cancer.  His doctors gave him less than a decade, unless he has a liver transplant.  But his liver seems too badly damaged to qualify for a transplant.  So he’s resigned himself to decluttering his life and reconnecting with people.  One of my cousins who’s 10 years older suffered a heart attack in 2020 and is now battling kidney failure.  The 40-something son of another long-time friend is still recovering from a catastrophic stroke he experienced about 2 years ago.  He’s ensconced in a rehabilitation facility, but doesn’t appear to be making much progress – not according to his father.  The latter says it seems his son doesn’t really want to cooperate with the therapists; as if – just a few years from age 50 – he’s decided he’s lived life to the fullest.

As a manic depressive in my past life, death often occupied more space in my mind than thoughts of the future.  A typical artistic type, I experience the full range of emotions humanity possesses.  But death haunts all of us throughout our lives.  When I was in high school, a girl was killed when a train struck the car in which she was riding.  Around that same time, lightning killed a boy walking home from school.  Some years later, while working at a retail store, a teenage constituent was killed by a drunk driver, and another died in a car wreck.  In the fall of 1992, I happened upon the obituary of a young man I’d known in grade school; he was 29.  The following year a friend died of AIDS at the age of 31.

Looking at the myriad news events surrounding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I’m always heartbroken at the sight of very young people returning home with damaged bodies and minds or in coffins.  The epidemic of school shootings and deaths of those caught up in civil unrest is truly upsetting.

How is it these things are allowed to happen?  Isn’t there supposed to be an all-loving, omnipotent deity who could prevent such horrors?

I’ve always wondered what life is like on “The Other Side”; whatever it’s supposed to be and wherever that is.  I like to think all those I’ve known in decades past, including my parents and even my dogs, are safely enveloped in such realms; where (hopefully) they are happy and loved.

Back in 2012, I had a brief dream of an English and German instructor I had at a community college in suburban Dallas in the 1980s.  She was a quirky, yet truly inspirational character.  I hadn’t thought of her in years when I had that dream.  I think it was a day or two later when I found her obituary in the newspaper.  And I thought later that, perhaps, she flitted through my sleeping subconscious to say goodbye – for now.

Betty White’s “sudden” death saddened so many people.  But she was 99!  So she didn’t quite make it to her centennial birthday!  She always vocalized how fortunate she was to have lived so long and to have so many people admire and love her.  She had reached the end of her time in this world.

We all will at some point.  As sad as it may be sometimes, it doesn’t really matter one’s age or condition at the moment of death.  It just happens.  We have to make our time as valuable and fulfilling as we can.

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Notes on Normal

A sign of hope for America.

Things are beginning to return to the way they were.  At least for me.  I found Lysol® at the store last week!  It’s a small – yet strangely ridiculous – sign of hope.  Maybe not so much strange as pathetic.  I mean, are things really so out of whack that we get excited about Lysol and toilet paper?

Last year started off rough for me, when my mother suffered a debilitating stroke.  I reluctantly had to place her in a rehabilitation facility to help her heal.  Her dementia only intensified matters.  Then the pandemic hit.  And then the facility practically evicted her in May of 2020 because her Medicare benefits expired.  She finally passed at the end of June.

The stress of caring for both of my elderly parents for so long seemed to hit afterwards as my body and mind almost completely collapsed.  In the midst of a global plague, I naturally thought I had “The Virus”.  But it was just that relentless stress.  I already knew its effects from life in the working world.  Yet I’d never felt it so personally.

Alas, the U.S. economy is regaining strength, for which conservatives are crediting Donald Trump.  But those of us with more than a few brain cells know Trump’s actions and behavior throughout his thankfully single term in office traumatized the American psyche and steered our financial situation into greater distress.

We finally have a president, though, who know how to act…well, presidential!  Joe Biden may be an old codger, but as someone rapidly headed towards 60, I’d rather have an old man who knows how to govern than a failed businessman / tax cheat / cretin of a human being who brags about fondling women and holds up a bible like it’s a copy of Mein Kompf for a cheap photo op.

Earlier this week I started working on a temporary job – one that requires me to actually get into my truck and drive to an office building in a neighboring suburb.  Aside from having to wear a face mask whenever I leave my desk, it’s a rather normal and ordinary corporate environment.  Oddly, it feels good to go somewhere other than a store or a restaurant during the week.

Some other things, however, remain troublesome.  Like its owner, my 15-year-old vehicle is showing its age.  I really think it just wants to lead a life of its own – much like my body.  Unfortunately, I’ve gained too much weight over the past several months.  I believe that’s a recurring problem.  But rotund physiques have become a common sight here in the U.S.  If I’d known better, I would have invested in sweat pants years ago!

Regardless, I still see hope on the horizon of mediocre.  Now, I must do some sit-ups and enjoy spraying that Lysol.

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December 2020 Countdown – December 26!

“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan.  And guess what they have planned for you?  Not much.”

Jim Rohn

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December 2020 Countdown – December 16!

“If you don’t make time to work on creating the life you want, you’re eventually going to be forced to spend a lot of time dealing with a life you don’t want.”

Kevin Ngo

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December 2020 Countdown – December 10!

“One might compare the journey of the soul to mystical union, by way of pure faith, to the journey of a car on a dark highway.  The only way the driver can keep to the road is by using his headlights.  So in the mystical life, reason has its function.  The way of faith is necessarily obscure.  We drive by night.  Nevertheless our reason penetrates the darkness enough to show us a little of the road ahead.  It is by the light of reason that we interpret the signposts and make out the landmarks along our way.”

Thomas Merton

Image: “Hummingbird”, Chris Maynard

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Circling

Yesterday, April 30, marked a unique anniversary for me.  It’s been 30 years since I started working for a major banking corporation in Dallas.  I remained there – laboring over hot computer keyboards and angrier customers – for 11 years before I got laid off in April 2001.  But, I just realized: 30 years since that first day!  Wow!  The year 1990 still sounds relatively recent; attributed mainly to the 1990s being the best decade of my life.  A lifetime ago.

And, it’s amazing how much has changed since then.  Both society and me.  I’m more confident and self-assured now than I was in 1990.  I came of age in that final decade of the 20th century and I’ve improved myself in the many years since.  I’m not holding onto the past – not anymore.  I’m just reflecting.  I’m at the age where I find myself comparing life between then and now more often.  I’ve packed enough years into my life to do that.

It makes me recall how my parents often did the same.  ‘It’s been how long?!’  I heard that so many times; from when I was in grade school to the weeks before my father died in 2016.  Now, I find myself doing the same.

I’m certainly not upset about it.  I’ve experienced all of the good and bad life has to offer in various shapes, sizes and colors.  That happens, of course, as one navigates the rivers of our individual worlds.  It’s inevitable and unavoidable.  Making it to the half-century point of my life was a major milestone.  The alternative is not as attractive.

After the funeral of my Aunt Margo in 1989, we gathered at her house in suburban Dallas where she’d lived for over 20 years.  Sipping on beverages and eating food Margo’s neighbors had prepared, my mother and her two surviving siblings began regaling the group with tales of long ago.  My mother recounted one quaint moment at a church with her niece, Yvonne, one of Margo’s daughters.  After the priest had led the congregation in recitation of the ‘Hail Mary’, Yvonne – about 2 years of age – loudly asked my mother, “Aunt Lupe, what’s a womb?”

Startled, my mother mumbled, “Uh…I don’t know.”

“Oh, come on Aunt Lupe, yes you do!”

Behind them, she said, much of the fellow worshippers chuckled.  Even the priest laughed, she told us.

My father, sitting on a couch beside me, smiled broadly and uttered, “See, she remembers those little things.”

For me, those “little things” have added up.

A few years ago, at a gym I patronized, I got into a discussion with some young men about work.  They weren’t just friends; they were colleagues at a major financial institution.  I mentioned I’d labored at the bank for over a decade and found myself regaling them with tales of answering phones and mailing out scores of paper documents to clients and colleagues.  One of them told me that they all used their cell phones to stay in touch with people – clients and colleagues – and were connected all the time.  Little paper, he noted, almost 100% digital or electronic.  I laughed.  It didn’t make me feel old.  I realized immediately it was just progress.  But they enjoyed my description of such oddities at the time as telecommuting and video conference calls – along with reels of digital tape for recording phone calls and people trying to figure out how to refill the copier with toner.  I recall vividly a number of people with hands coated in the small-grain black powder and seeing toner EVERYWHERE.  I finally figured out how to insert the powder – using latex gloves I brought from home, with a bundle of dampened paper towels from the men’s room.  Curious gazes sprouted onto the faces of those young men at the gym; perhaps uncertain whether to laugh or express wonder.  I couldn’t help but laugh and say, “That’s how life was like in corporate America many moons ago.”  And, in turn, they collectively burst out laughing.

In my 20s, my father advised me to work as hard as possible during that period of my life; making small sacrifices along the way to ensure a solid future for myself.

“Work as much as you can while you’re young and save as much as you can,” he pointedly said, almost as if warning me.  “You’ll be damn glad you did when you get to be our age,” referring to him and my mother.

Last autumn one of my cousins, Laura, held a Thanksgiving gathering at her house, with her two daughters and the young son of one of them.  Her mother (my mother’s younger sister) lives with her.  Both women sat at the dining room table talking after the meal, while Laura and I stood in the den conversing.  Also present was one of her nephews, Andy (on her ex-husband’s side of the family).  My parents had first met Andy around the turn of the century, before he even entered kindergarten.  He grew to like them, especially my father.  I didn’t meet him until the summer of 2005, after a lengthy stint working in Oklahoma for the engineering company.  On that particular Saturday, my cousin had come to visit my parents with her daughters and Andy who was visiting for the weekend.

I had my dog, Wolfgang, corralled in a back bedroom and finally brought him into the den to meet everyone – whereupon the little monster I identified as a miniature wolf vocally unleashed his suspicion of the newcomers.

“Why’s he barking so loud?” Andy asked with a laugh.

“He’s just not used to seeing this many people,” I told him.

While the rest of us continued talking, Andy and Wolfgang were more focused on each other.  Andy eventually dropped to his knees, as Wolfgang sat and cocked his head back and forth; the way dogs do when they’re still trying to figure out something or decide if they like you or not.  I told Andy to let Wolfgang sniff the back of his hand, before petting him, which he did.  Within no more than a moment, the two were playing.  Yes, a little boy and a little dog make good playmates!  They got along very well.

At that Thanksgiving gathering last year, Andy was 23 and had grown into a strikingly handsome young man with a deep voice and a full beard.  He said he worked for a trucking company north of Dallas and had earned a sizeable income in 2018.  I immediately congratulated him and then told him to save as much of that money as he could.

“Don’t go out buying cars and motorcycles and drinks for everyone in your crew when you go out partying,” I advised.  As a very young man, I knew Andy was almost naturally prone to getting the best products life has to offer.  I truly did not want to see him work so hard, only to end up destitute at 50-something.  “Work hard and play hard, yes.  You’re young.  There’s no harm in going out with your buddies and partying and meeting women.  Just don’t do that too much and waste all that money eating and drinking.  You don’t want to turn into an angry old fucker like me or Laura.”

Both Andy and Laura burst out laughing.  But I feel Andy understood how serious I was.  I then asked him if he remembered Wolfgang and I recounted that day I first met him and how he had played with the dog.  He had to think for a moment, before he finally did.  “Little gray dog with big brown eyes, right?”

“Yes!”

He asked me what had become of him.  I had to explain how the dog’s health had begun to fail at the start of 2016 and the stroke-like episodes he’d started to experience were a heart murmur gradually worsening.  I then detailed how Wolfgang acted on the day my father died and how he himself passed away less than five months later.

Andy stared at me blankly for a few seconds – and I thought briefly he was going to cry.  His eyes seemed to quiver, before he muttered, “Oh, man.  Sorry to hear that.  I guess that was kind of unexpected, huh?”

“No,” I answered.  “Dogs get old and sick – just like people.”  No, Wolfgang’s death wasn’t unexpected.  When he turned 10 in 2012, I told my parents we needed to brace ourselves for his eventually demise.  It seemed they didn’t want to talk about it.  I could understand.  We never discussed how and when our German shepherd, Joshua, would die – until the day we had to carry him into the vet’s office.

Another thing my parents had advised me to do many years ago was to complete my higher education.  I promised them I would and even after I started working for the bank, I maintained at some point I would return.  I didn’t fulfill that promise until 2007.

About 10 years ago I attended a dinner party with some close friends and met a young woman who had dropped out of college because she was having so much trouble at that time.  She was now gainfully employed, but still longed for completion of that collegiate endeavor.  I strongly suggested she make the effort because it would be worth the trouble.  “You’ll find life gets busier as you get older,” I said.  “It just does.  You realize you want to do more things.”  I emphasized I wasn’t chastising her or telling her what to do with her life.

Someone else asked, if I felt at that point in my life, it was proper to give advice to younger people.

“I don’t like to say I give advice,” I replied, “because that’s almost condescending.”  But I was entering the phase of my life where, if I know or meet someone who’s making the same mistakes I made when I was young, I feel the obligation to relay my own experience with that issue and how I dealt with it.  As the adage goes, hindsight is 20-20.  Education had grown to become more important to me as I reached my 40s – and, as with my creative writing, it’s not so much that life kept getting in the way.  I let life keep getting in the way.

It’s a curious sensation, though.  Life is now coming full circle.  And it actually feels pretty good.

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Dancing for COVID

Hans Holbein’s “The Lady,” part of his “Danse Macabre” series, c. 1526

From illness and tragedy, art always seems to bloom to place ourselves and our world into a grand perspective.  After the “Black Death” rampaged through Eurasia and North Africa in the 14th century, the “danse macabre”, or dance of death, became an artistic representation of how death is the ultimate equalizer.  Beginning in Western Europe and gaining popularity in the Middle Ages, it was a literary or pictorial representation of both living and dead figures – from pope to hermit – leading their lives as normal, before entering a grave.

Recently some pallbearers in Ghana envisioned the dance for contemporary deaths and the ensuing funerals.  As many Africans tend to do, they celebrate death as the next stage of life – mournful and often tragic, for certain.  Singing and dancing, they honor the deceased for the life they led on Earth and the glorious new life they should have in the next realm.

It’s how I view death.  My paternal grandfather said he respected death more than any other aspect of the world because it’s not prejudiced or bigoted.  It simply spares no one.  I felt some measure of glee when I watch the ending of the 1997 movie “Titanic”, as the ship sank and the plethora of furnishings and luxurious items shattered.  Not because I love seeing things destroyed!  But because all of the vainglorious possessions of the vessel’s wealthiest patrons could not save them.  They may have been rescued because of their wealth, as many of them entered the smattering of lifeboats first.  But, whether dead at that moment or dead later, they would never be able to take those items with them.

We all come into this world naked and screaming, clutching nothing but our souls in our hands.  We leave with the same.

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Retro Quote – Morrie Schwartz

“The little things I can obey.  But the big things – how we think what we value – those you must choose yourself.  You can’t let anyone – or any society – determine those for you.”

Morrie Schwartz

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Hormone It

Over the past couple of years male friends of mine have openly and shamelessly lamented the various travails suddenly burdening their aging lives.  Some have actually announced they’re experiencing hot flashes!  Seriously?!  Hot flashes?!  In the olden days (c. 1970s and 80s) I often heard my mother and other women bemoaning the onset of this dreaded mid-life scourge.  Since I only heard women complaining, I thought we men were safe and had to deal with other traumas; such as our eyebrows growing together and more spontaneous urination incidents instead of spontaneous erections.

Alas, it seems the much-loathed hot flash has zoonotically migrated into the Y-chromosome crowd.  I knew women shouldn’t have been allowed to vote and wear slacks!

While I’ve attributed recent cranial temperature spikes to allergies and Texas’ perennial schizophrenic weather (which might explain some Texans to the rest of the civilized world), I don’t feel I’m experiencing hot flashes.  I prefer to call them “hormonal readjustments”.  They’re similar to gray hairs; they’re not gray hairs, people!  They’re stress highlights!

Shortly after I turned 40 in 2003 – in the days more commonly known as BH (Before HDTV) or BF (Before Facebook) – I came down with the flu for the first time in my entire life to date.

“What’s this shit about life beginning at 40?” I joked with my then-supervisor at work.

A round of Tamiflu, coupled with orange juice, rum and refraining from frequent masturbation helped over that uncomfortable, microbial slump.  But I still had the gnawing sensation my body had finally decided to divorce itself from my soul and try to lead a life of its own.  I think a number of people experience that same feeling as their odometer reaches the number 40.  We never ask for that kind of life change; the shit just slaps us upside the head!

Now, however, at age 56, I’m starting to experience more unexpected physiological changes in my body, as well as cerebral alterations that occur upon realizing life moves more easily when sound and sober.  Unexpected, yes, but even more pleasurable.  It’s not the same kind of pleasure one might have seeing their best friend and one-time spouse or life partner drive off the cliff in their new vehicle.  I mean, what a way to get a new car!  Full-coverage insurance be damned!

For me, it’s my body finally getting adjusted to NOT holding in all the rage and angst I have when people piss me off – the madness otherwise known as “Life”.

Remember, we don’t develop gray hairs!  Now, my own indigo locks haven’t sported many – yet!  But metaphorically, I’m covered!  Still – no gray hairs, dear readers!  They’re stress highlights!  Thus, it’s good to let out as much stress as you can.  Just watch out for flu varmints and two-timing best friends!

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Retro Quote – Elijah E. Cummings

“My life is based on pain, passion, and purpose.”

–  Elijah E.Cummings, U.S. Congressman from Maryland who died unexpectedly on October 17

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