Friday, March 3, 2017

There is So Much to Experience and Relish

Novelist and poet, Heather Sellers has written, "I think everyone has one day like this, and some people have more than one. It's the day of the accident, the midlife crisis, the breakdown, the meltdown, the walkout, the sellout, the giving up, giving away, or giving in. The day you stop drinking, or the day you start. The day you know things will never be the same again." 

The death of my brother Jim became one of those days for me. I knew his situation was deteriorating. I knew his body was shutting down. But when his daughter Natalie called and said he had just passed away, I suddenly felt I was floating off in some moment of bewilderment. Could he really be gone?

The past months had been difficult, watching his rapid decline. And yet, I had somehow become attached to that scene of him in his room in the nursing home. His big screen TV. The stack of videos on the counter beside it. The small serving tray at his side that held his reading glasses, the ever ready box of Kleenex, cotton swabs, his remote control and other items. And, him, resting quietly in bed with the thin cord of oxygen held in his nose and wrapped around his ears. His eyes watching me intently. His long legs pushing against the end of the bed. His voice, soft and calm.

He rarely complained and had learned to accept his illness as one of the mysteries of life. I wanted an explanation. I wanted God to offer an insight or at least acknowledge that Jim got a raw deal. Where were the caring angels with their songs of wisdom? I heard only silence. All I kept wondering was why are some good, sweet, kind people saddled with debilitating diseases, chronic pain, terrible cancers, crippling strokes and other dreadful afflictions while others sail through life unharmed by ill health and die peacefully in old age? The answers are never adequate.

It is the stubborn inevitability of death that strikes me now. The harsh truth that we are all of us so completely mortal, that this life we are given has an expiration date. None of us in the end will survive.

That is not intended to be a gloomy, morbid conclusion. It’s just the way things are. And most of us deny, and ignore, and push it to the back of our minds as long as we can. And yet, there it is, staring us each day in the face, our mortality, our inescapable end.

My friend, Ramiro Salazar, often reminds me of the importance of living out each day to the fullest. Draining it dry of its potential for joy, for laughter, for love, for fun and delight. We try to get together when he is in the city for golf or dinner or just drinks because as he says, time is short, let’s make the most of it.

And there is the other side of this reality, too. Taking time to contribute something substantial, to develop relationships that last, to cherish our spouse, our partner, our siblings, our parents, our children and grandchildren as well as our friends and companions. To be thoughtful. To go the second mile. To forgive. To care. To develop a depth to our thinking and feeling and our living. To learn how to meaningfully traverse this brief time we are given.

I know now what Robert Frost was expressing when he wrote,

"The rain to the wind said,
'You push and I'll pelt.'
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged -- though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.” 

There is a distinct exhaustion in grief. It bleeds us of our energy. It holds us captive to the stark realities, to the unavoidable, and forces us to observe our destiny, to know in the end we are but dust.

Ultimately, if we process it wisely, grief moves us away from death and back to life. It pushes us to open our eyes, to be dazzled by all the beauty near us, to take in deep long breaths of goodness around us, to be generous with embraces, and to be aware, so aware of time’s fickle duration.

English writer George Eliot’s comment seems so appropriate now: “The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.”

I see now how valuable each day and each person is. There is so much to experience and relish.

© 2017 Timothy Moody

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