One day I wake up with a thought.
Actually, it does not pop in just like that. I am not a cartoon character with a light bulb over my head.
The thought starts as a background hum, a slow buzzing sound that might be calling your name, or maybe it just is noise. Something outside. But then it does not go away. You grow unsure if you can pinpoint the time when you did not hear it.
What’s the sound? It’s a voice that seems hardly my own.
In looking at my life, I seem to be seeing more clearly the end than the beginning.
One of the founders of the field of Geology (my major as an undergrad student), James Hutton busted open the established scientific notion that earth’s history was on the time scale of history recorded in the Bible. No, it was long, deep. Almost infinitely deep. It was beyond our scale of perception, like light waves we cannot see, audio frequencies we cannot hear — the long plodding time to build up, and then break down mountains. Oceans moving in, then drawing back to alkaline dry lakes, coming back. Again and again and again.
Lyell frames the scale of geological time as
No vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end.
That’s fine for mountains. Yet I am not the earth, but one creature taking a ridiculously short (on a rock’s scale) ride on it.
While doing a mundane task like teeth brushing, or ridiculously mature, flossing, I am looking in the mirror. With a distant gaze, I am running the numbers, doing the arithmetic, calculating how old I was when my father was my current age. He, with the peppered grey sideburns, the often tired adult man eyes.
I wonder about the wheezing sounds I hear while climbing stairs. I wonder why the knee aches, the thumb, the back too, for no reason of exertion. Naps sound appealing.
When I think about it I’ve done oddly adult things the 25 year old me, with a silly mullet and bleach stained jeans, would never consider. I note I track my savings for retirement, have set up a living trust, medical power of attorney, a set of documents stored in an envelope labeled “just in case”. AARP sends me crap in the mail I never requested. I see less and less appeal in popular shows and music. I start to wonder if I should set up something to keep my internet domains and web sites running after I’m gone.
Why the bleep am I thinking about this?
Meanwhile the news beings regular stories of rock stars, movie stars, idealistic world changers of my youth now being memorialized, remembered in hindsight. Why are we not giving them this respect while they are still here? My calendar seems more populated with entries noting when relatives, friends, pets, in the some cases the children of friends, have passed away. I picture my Mom’s kitchen cabinet, with rows of Yarzheit candles, lit on such dates (and should I have relief of guilt that I do not follow her tradition?).
I think about my grandfathers I never knew because they died before I was born, the waves of funerals for uncles. My father made it all the way to only 75. The men in my family tree don’t have much of a record for being long branches, with the exception of my grandmother’s brother Max, whom either I never met or cannot remember, who lived maybe to 100. What are my Max odds, especially given I live with a long term disease (add link) knowing for its debilitating complications over the long haul?
I often am looking up old email messages, flickr photos, blog posts, rifling through a box of hand written letters, to place when and where vital life events took happened. I see names on the envelopes in that box, the holiday letters that I do not remember. “One day I should organize these” I say each time, then sigh, and shove the box back in the closet.
On the computer, I see the red dot on an icon indicates a message in Skype. “It’s been so long since I heard from him!”. But on opening the alert, I discover that it’s only Skype informing me of their birthday. And I see a stack, of previous notifications, with nothing in between.
Crap, my life is a film with a Harry Chapin soundtrack “Little boy blue and the man on the moon…”
Thus looking back to the beginning, receding like the pale rider galloping towards the horizon, can make it seem so far away. Or pathetically nostalgic to be thinking this. Past mistakes, the impetuously colossal ones that severely cost me in ways I can never recover, nibble away at my conscious with the echoes of “why why why” yet offer no promise to what better future I might be standing upon “if only”. Those advice books about regret not being useful? They have been dumped at the thrift store.
Lest you think this is a morbid whiskey soaked blues harmonica themed present state of being, this is really just background in my life I am growing aware of, a way of being never even considered on the possibility horizon at 17, 25, 29, 36, even 42. When I do the subtraction from an average life expectancy of my current age, and then subtract that number again back in time– that’s a rather long stretch. Really long. It goes back to a version of me so unformed, I would cringe to be that unknowing again.
I’ll take the loss of breath and sore knees for $500, Alec, because it comes with a lot of awareness.
Each day, and several times a day, I marvel at the wonders in my little one third of an acre of earth surface.
Gloriously luscious flowers, of the flowers, the ones I put in and the wildflowers that found their way in. There are trees and shrubs I have nurtured and can see their growth. Some years the apple trees give me nothing, and some years so many that I am eating applesauce I made and canned in 2013. Three years ago an ordinary green shrub I never gave much notice busted out in delicate pale purple flowers. My gosh, I never realized it was a lilac.
Another shrub I planted maybe 8 years ago, red-tipped photinia, which never grew much in the first four years, as rocketed up over 10 feet high with more water and trimming attention since. Yesterday I saw on this shrub flowers I have never seen before. The every day familiar still provides wonders for me to discover as if they never existed.
If only I look, if only I notice, if only I get out of my echoey head.
And then this. I have a repeated visual message that I send (and probably annoy) to online contacts who express frustration, angst.
They happiness of having a dog spirit in my life cannot barely be described. And also, the immensity of being responsible for not only another being’s health, but their happiness. Which comes back in payment at interest rates that make the 1980s look like a pittance (yes, in my past I remember getting 18% interest rate on a savings account; now I am lucky to get 0.01%),
Writing this on an airplane flying to a meeting across the country, I am viscerally feeling a soul ripping missingness of “just a dog” I’ve known for a month. Is it any wonder we place in an internal organ, one that tirelessly performs its drudgery repeated task of a liquid pump, an amount of emotion that physically would not fit such a relatively tiny volume?
You can find a Felix-like perspective in so many ways, spending time with kids, appreciating the stories of retired strangers on a plane who strike up a conversation, finding that unexpected creative outlet in something like cooking a first pot roast or cycling a trail you thought impossible or making art despite a lived life with an inner voice intoning “you’re not creative.”
Greater in magnitude than old friends who I don’t hear from beyond Skype birthday pings, in being online every day I am making more new connections with what my friend Claudia describes as “friends we have not yet met”, living each other’s unanticipated shared experiences, sharing silly GIFs, asking and answering technical questions, or just smiling at their own quirky life observations.
Unlike a rock, a fossil, a mountain peak, I can look forward and backward in time almost continuously, without being fixated on either.
I can appreciate, cherish my vestiges of a beginning, I can accept the inevitable prospect of an end, and I can spend my energy filling that space between now and end with as much wonder and ball chasing joy as possible.
Top / Featured Image: Initially I was going to title this post “Faded Permanance” — I knew exactly which photo of mine I wanted to use, this relict of past Paradise seen in San Juan Puerto Rico in February 2016 — my flickr photo https://flickr.com/photos/cogdog/24859897280 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
In writing, I ended up using the Hutton quote as a theme, so I ditched my original title. But hey, the photo still works.