Living, Aging and Dying

Today’s number: 17.9 stone

First, my apologies, in advance, for bumming you out. Although not my express intention, today’s topic is hardly uplifting.

That said, let me start out with a poem, one I recently forwarded to a friend turning 50:

On Himself
by Robert Herrick
 
A wearied pilgrim I have wander’d here,
Twice five-and-twenty, bate me but one year;
Long I have lasted in this world; ’tis true
But yet those years that I have lived, but few.
Who by his gray hairs doth his lustres tell,
Lives not those years, but he that lives them well:
One man has reach’d his sixty years, but he
Of all those three-score has not lived half three:
He lives who lives to virtue; men who cast
Their ends for pleasure, do not live, but last.

The abridged version of this is: “there’s a difference between living and lasting; it’s only living if you live a good life.” I’ll forego any definition of “living a good life”. To some this might mean “being good” (“virtue”). To others, this might mean contributing something to the community. To others yet, this might simply mean not stealing their neighbors’ newspapers too often.

By any metric, my mother, has lived a good long life. She turns 88 this year and is, as many say of their own mothers, “a saint.” She is the paradigm of kindness, generosity and selflessness. Alas, even though my mother’s faculties are mostly in tact, her body is another story. She suffers from osteoarthritis and a seriously impaired sense of balance. Two things result: considerable pain and occasional falls (leading to more pain). She has very little strength left in her hands and she has a minimally usable right shoulder (dislocated during a fall and never mentioned to anyone).
 
She has lost several family members (a sister, a brother, several friends) and, frankly, seems to be looking forward to her own death. She jokes about how little time she has with us and about how it doesn’t make sense for her to think beyond the short term. I can tell this is not just “gallows humor” and mental preparation for the inevitable. I think she’s simply getting to the point where her pain and her limitations seem to offset the joy of living.
 
3000 miles away lies another story. A good high school friend of mine has cancer. After chemotherapy and apparent remission a few months ago, he’s taken a bad turn. He spent a couple of weeks in the hospital with shingles then MRSA. After recovering from these, it turns out that his cancer is back in several organs. He needs to go through more chemo, but has been readmitted to the hospital with respiratory problems.
 
As with my mother, this friend, too, is a saint. Of our entire high school gang he’s always been the nicest, kindest and gentlest of us. Mind you, we’re now a pretty grizzly bunch of lawyers, executives and bureaucrats but, nevertheless, chance could not have been more cruel in choosing whom to screwe.
 
There’s no point in agonizing over the injustice of biology. One lives longer than she wants; the other is stricken in his prime. As the old saying goes, “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” So, as Herrick says, focus on maximizing your living. Enjoy your family. Pay attention to your friends. Be kind to the dog.

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