Archive for October, 2018

Getting to Dead

Age is just as just,

as fair as eye for eye.

A time to lively live

A time to finely die.


The chicken and the egg

couldn’t quite agree

on which came first.

They agreed to disagree.


I’ve thought so hard

my brain is inside out.

Perhaps a better plan

would turn it outside in.


Everybody’s dying.

It’s the latest thing,

devoutly to be visioned,

finally achieved.  But…


It’s the locked gate,


of sad good-byes.

Who’s Katie anyway?


We all have to die.

I do.  You do.  We all do.

It’s the only right and

proper thing to do.

All living things must surely die.



When stray radiation from deep cosmos impacts a living cell, the nature of the attack, in the case of cancerous growth, is spoiling universal law that all must die.  Other mechanisms of change leave molecular mortality intact.  Those mutated cells are different but benign.  We know this, either scientifically or intuitively.  The ultimate arrogance is to wish for the eternal life which, in the natural order of things, we are denied.  Whole religions have been built to deal with that predicament.  Jesus did it and got away with it.  After three days, he got up and shuffled off—to a  great deal more than Buffalo.  But that’s another story.  It’s easy to get sidetracked when addressing the reaper, grim or gracious.


Once accepting our hard-earned somatic humility, we must set about the question of getting to dead.  It can happen in an instant, as in flattened-by-a-truck, or can be accomplished over a gracious span of earth-time, relative of course, to whatever remove from light speed is the person doing the dying.  How long it takes to deconstruct a cell is controlled by the current length of its telomeres.  Every time a cell divides, a wiggle of its tail is used-up in the division.  When all are gone, that cell no longer divides.  Senescence ensues.  We have the science that proves telomeres can be lengthened with doses of the enzyme Telomerase, but such dramatic supplementation is typically cost-prohibitive.  So it doesn’t help all that much to understand how we age.  We must understand, accept, and harness that knowledge to our lively purpose.
We can slow telomere shortening, to wit:  Reduce stress, stop smoking, lose weight, exercise more, and eat better.  Frankly, we are sick of this song.  Death is the only sure-fire stress reduction.  Anybody dumb enough to smoke doesn’t deserve to live.  Anybody too greedy to push plate away when they’re full has already had much more than their share.  If we’re too bored to get up and move about, what do we have to live for anyway, if our get-up-and-go has got-up-and-went?


Which brings us full circle:  We decide when we should die.  Our very cells know the time.  Our skin decides to sag.  Our muscles get cranky and stage a litany of cramp.  Things that should rise don’t.  Our bones go porous and dump us on our color coordinated Persian rug, or on our dust-free Swiffer-slick eco-friendly no-wax floor.  No matter how well we are preserved, we know when our number’s up.  Our cells know—our organs know—why do we cringe from the knowing?


It’s our intelligence that deludes us.  Too damn smart we are to die.  If religion fails us, spirit will come through.  The Jesus message was inherently spiritual, though mainly lost to the mysticism of its own myth.  If fey, we grab on and ride our ESP, our drop-dead-pretty purple Unicorn, carrying us through any running of the bulls to satiety of china-shop exhaustion.  Even glorying in our surety that there is “more” won’t save us.  Before we get to whatever reward may be just, or justified, we must first give up spooky ghost.


Dying should be a project not an abdication.  I’ve got a window seat on the most fascinating adventure of a lifetime.  A prime consolation of nearly all seniors is the obsessive cataloguing of ills that point toward personal deconstruction.  It’s not that we are hypochondriacal, even if we are.  It’s that we are bored to death with parts of us unwinding and leaving us to fuss with whatever’s left.  We haven’t given up.  Why should they?  These were good organs, strong systems, dedicated to integrity of body, strength of will.  Given all the pills we bought for them, how dare they just lie down to some Q-sign oblivion?


That’s one side of the war; the other is our own.  My parts may still be cranking, but I’m as good as done.  I am free to see every pain as gathering end, every new symptom as possible final solution to an up-and-coming morgue-rat dilemma.  If every forgotten word is handed over to Alzheimer’s, every missed appointment consigned to senility, what’s to keep us out of the bloomin’ grave?  If I can’t pass by the bathroom door without stopping off to contribu-tinkle, what do I expect a bladder to do?  It will shrink, of course, but if I take over and do my human job, that bladder can be taught to serve a higher good.  Away from that lovely siren-flush, my bladder and I can pass whole afternoons gadding about the town.  If I greet words-remembered rather than lamenting words-forgotten, most words seem to hang around for more than enough of the fun.


When push comes to shove, my genome is the boss.  Ask those brown spots gathering all over little-red-headed-girl white skin.  Are they a Parthian shot from the melanin that was supposed to protect from a too-aggressive Helios.  The big M failed.  Not my fault, or was it?  Doc says it’s a gift from my ancestors, but I could have stayed out of the sun, like the old folks said, wearing the old-lady-ugly sun-bonnets they prescribed.  But I knew better.  A day at Jones or Myrtle Beach was worth any future carcinoma.  I’ve told my grandchildren how this works.  A visit to the dermatologist is oh-so-full of excitement and fun.  This month’s coterie of pre-cancerous lesions frozen off, as well as a suspicious mole snipped, packaged, and shipped off for biopsy, and maybe the next Mohs surgery.


Every system has its swan song.  All contribute to the dying, some more, some less.  “23 and me” is glad to trade good cash for an informed list of which systems are most likely to contribute toward biting the dust.  Then we can plot retribution.  I have tagged an ascending aortic aneurysm, a hiatal hernia (shortened esophagus leading to chronic gastro-esophageal reflux), a cardiac-insufficiency plotting an inevitable attack or throwing an embolism, nine thyroid adenomas in their own little cocoons of misery, allergies to bi-valves, molds and dust mites, as well as the ever-ubiquitous house dust, sensitivities to gluten, sugar, lactose, and GMO proteins.  None of this is intractable.  It’s all treatable and cannot serve to assure a speedy exit, and we haven’t even mentioned eyesight.  That’s too depressing to discuss.


The only thing for it is to treat, but with careful discrimination.  Of all these unremarkable complaints, which of them promises a dignified final repose?  In my case, it’s the aortic aneurysm.  No pain, no fighting for breath—just a quiet slipping away—never to wake nor worry.  Of course there’s the sleep apnea—just an innocuous she-died-in-her-sleep, leaving everybody sympathetic but pleased that oh-well-she-had-a-good-death.  My c-pap machine is on hiatus right now since a mole under its mask decided to go rogue and become a basil cell carcinoma.  It’s always something.  When all my various parts conspire to end this thing, who am I to say no?  I’m just along for the ride, a spectacular one.  It’s been fun, but it needs to be over.


But wait, dying is something other people do.  It is impossible to imagine a world without me in it.  It took three quarters of a century for me to awaken to how incidental I am to the universe of things.  I can relax.  God has everything in hand.  The world will keep on turning without me twisting the crank.  Maybe that’s why we so love our hamsters, cats, and dogs, creatures who adore us.  We are their gods.  Children know better.  They have seen us at our worst, and they know.  Liars all, we must at least make fun of death.  How else dare we speak the words—Happy Halloween!

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Child Mind

Jesus said: “Verily I say unto you. Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”


What does that mean?  What is it at core that sets the mind of a child apart from our own?  Children are first of all vulnerable.  They are open to any skullduggery, and are helpless to affect any change.  They perceive their position in the universe as children of gods.  Here they are, due to no fault of their own.  They didn’t get a vote.


Beginning at this rock bottom disadvantage, they must climb up and out.  The humility of lying turtle-like on their backs awaiting milk and dry diapers points toward sainthood.  But even a child can’t maintain that posture for long.  In the benevolent order of things, diapers give way to training pants, and the dark of the night is for sleep.*  Healthy child narcissism struggles with innate helplessness to presage the future adult.  Somewhere in there a turning point lurks.  An intact adult ego is hopefully the result.


Depending on upbringing, children are likely to be optimistic.  With most of life’s abuse still ahead of them, they have little memory of evil.  They expect more of the good stuff.


The Buddha made much of beginner’s mind.  A clean slate is universally revered.  A mind that is overrun with pre-conceptions is not likely to see the new with any clarity.  It is an everyone amazement that a clean white sheet of paper speaks to the soul.  All hearts leap up when thoughts of September school supplies cross the mind.  A shiny new pencil, a pristine yet to be opened pack of notebook paper, or a brand new book engenders an inner smile recognized by any and all.  A child’s mind waits for incipient amazements yet a-birth.  It visions possibility.


Children are unlikely to have caused harm.  They are happily free of guilt.  The adults in their lives quickly disabuse them of that mindset.  The minions of guilt hang dripping from every tree and bush.  Soon even the most gentle and pious of children learn to shoulder their load of self-retribution and loathing.


Children tend toward honesty.  This doesn’t mean they will starve before they steal an apple; it means they are willing to own their own hunger.  Like any home-grown Texan, they tell it like it is.  They start with a nascent veracity and proceed.  You know where that ends.  It’s not likely to be pretty.  What is more honest than the first cry of a newborn?  Waaaaaaaaaaaaah!


Vulnerable, humble, optimistic, guiltless, honest.  It’s easy to see why Jesus admired kids.  He did speak to the possibility of conversion—change for the better.  Find friends who help you be a better person.  If they fail that basic test, dump them.  Aging with its gathering second childhood may be a blessing in disguise.


*Dr. Spock, First Edition

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