Today I Realized (with quote)

“May you live all the days of your life.”—Unknown

When I was young, my reaction to this quote was something like “well, DUH. How would you not live all the days of your life? If you’re dead, you’re not living your life.”

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Later (embarrassingly later) I had a different understanding, and I was really slow in getting it. The key is “what does the word ‘live’ mean?” I had originally interpreted it as the physical act of living, including breathing, cognition, awareness, things like that. Then I realized that it’s the existential definition of ‘live’. Implied by this is the pursuit of happiness, work, etc.

Today I realized that by ‘living’, the quote means ‘living well’, and could involve happiness, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement — the hallmarks of Martin Seligman’s PERMA model of flourishing. Living all the days of your life fully, which is what I believe the quote means.

I teach PERMA in my positive psychology class. Although I think the quote is a little trite, it seems like something I could introduce to my class at the beginning of the semester as a motto. That it sounds nonsensical at first, yet has a deeper meaning might be the most important attribute of the quote.

There’s Some Life Left

A few things converge in my life to make me dwell upon death: 1) my father’s death in December; 2) the fact that my 60th birthday is coming soon. I suppose we can count 3) my contemplations about my spirituality, which by the nature of the topic includes death.

What I’ve decided so far:

  • I’m going to die eventually, probably sooner than I’d like.
  • There probably is no Heaven, although I wish there were.
  • Others will forget me.

There is nothing self-pitying about this. It does, however, make me sad, because I don’t want my life to end. It’s been too interesting so far.

And that’s the thing: It’s not over yet. I’m not dead. If I live as long as my mom, I’ll live 16 more years, and if I live as long as my dad, I’ll have 26 years. And if I do it right, I’ll live them as quirkily as I’ve lived the first 60.

I have some life left. Time for me to figure out what to do with it.

Thoughts about Death

When I was younger, I used to be so much more outspoken. If I was upset by something someone did, I let them know in the most forthright (and sometimes belligerent) terms. My friends christened me “Our Lady of the Two-by-Four” for the force with which I would address a problem.

I have lost some of that as I’ve grown older. I think this is for several reasons; first I have gained some consideration of others’ feelings and believe that the two-by-four is less effective than the — I have become trapped in my own extended metaphor and will get back to you later. Second, I understand the complexity of situations enough to know that I don’t see the complexity with ease, and especially when I’m in the emotional state where I want to express myself right away. Third, because society has conditioned me to keep quiet about what is bothering me, because that’s a sign of something not right.

I have let the latter rule me too long, having spoken obliquely in my post yesterday, not talking from my heart.

My dad is 86. He’s in hospice. I don’t think he is doing well. He’s … fading. Logically, I know that 86 is a good old age, and that people die. I would not stand in the way of a good, humane death and I know hospice does those well.

But I think about death and its starkness and my reluctant belief that there’s nothing on the other side. Not that I mind that too much; I will not be around for it, so to say. It’s just that looking at the finity of life from this end is jarring; the very notion that there will be an end to my cognitive and sensory partaking of the world chills me.

Maybe I’m wrong and we get another chance in the afterlife, but then, what would distinguish it from this one? I know I have many stupid things left in me; what is an afterlife for if I keep my stupid deeds? Alternately, if we became all-wise in our transition from the world, what would we live for? And doesn’t life, by definition, include pain that our dreams of the afterlife exclude?

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I’m almost 60. I maybe have 30 years left; probably less. This is the life I get, so if I’m unhappy about anything, I get to settle it here. If I want to experience moments of bliss, I have to find them here. It sounds like an Ebenezer Scrooge epiphany; it feels like a trudge through dusty clay. Outside there’s a perfect autumn day beckoning me, and that’s where I need to be, away from the corridors of my mind and into life.

A Year Under COVID

We’re coming up on the anniversary of when COVID changed our lives. Everyone’s anniversary looks a little different because of where they live, how soon they started taking precautions, and the like.

For me, it was the first day of Spring Break, March 9th, when my colleagues and I started hearing about states shutting down through shelter-in-place. The university decided it needed to do something, because we were about to receive 7000 college students freshly back from Spring Break.

By Thursday of Spring Break, we had bought a little time for decision-making with this instruction — “Do not come back for the week after Spring Break; we will let you know what happens from here.” Faculty were assigned to put their classes all online just in case. By Tuesday of that week, the university had decided that all classes would go online. The faculty had a little over a week to go fully online. And then the whole state sheltered in place.

My husband’s job at the library shut down at that time, and we found ourselves living in a changed world defined by the four walls of our home. I became frantic at that time, and my psychiatrist’s nurse assured me that I was far from the only one calling the office in a panic.

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The world quickly adapted around us. Public spaces were disinfected and required masks to enter. Stores distanced their customers to six feet apart and established flow patterns. Many restaurants established carryout. The harder things to adapt to: the loss of family gatherings except over zoom, relinquishing my occasional spa writer’s retreat, not eating at restaurants weekly (although we utilized the patio at A&G, a local steaks and chops place, before the weather got too cold).

Although we quickly adapted, we didn’t adapt happily, and we didn’t adapt without fear. Twenty-three people have died in Nodaway County, Missouri; this is one out of every thousand residents; 2.3% of those who got COVID. That’s a large number for deaths. These are large numbers for a small and relatively isolated county with no big towns.

A year later, the landscape has changed a little. The vaccines have rolled out for the most at-risk people; I still wait for mine. We’re all wearing masks still and some of us have a mask collection. The university is back on line, but with reduced classrooms and Zoom for the students and faculty sick or in quarantine. If I ever get my shots (I’m neither old enough nor fat enough to be among the first wave) I might be able to have that writer’s retreat, although still with a mask.

Life might never get back to normal, or maybe we will balk at having to don protection forever. Maybe the vaccine will reach enough people for us to have herd immunity. I hope one thing that changes is that we are more savvy about the microorganisms around us and their potential to become deadly.

Eulogy for a Good Man

I guess it’s okay to writer about this now — the obituary is now up; it has been posted on social media. 

My friend and mentor, Les Savage, died at 92 last Saturday. 

Les looked like a garden gnome — short, with wild white hair, chubby cheeks, and a beard. He had twinkling blue eyes, and yes, at least one person I know called him Santa Claus. Like Santa Claus, he gave the most wonderful hugs.

He’d led a fuller life than most; his reminiscences were peppered with phrases like “when I had my pilot’s licence”, “when I was in the navy,” and “when I worked in a lab in Glasgow”.  I didn’t learn until his obituary that he also could have included “when I consulted for the Apollo missions.” He was a combustion expert with a PhD in mechanical engineering who led a side business blowing up coal mines (in a controlled manner) to get rid of mine gases. He did carpentry in his basement and had wired up a house-wide stereo system long before Bluetooth made that easy. He appreciated good coffee, good wine, and good whiskey and taught me a little about each.

He also friended a motley crew of folks who needed a father figure and some emotional support. I was one of those folks, having a contentious relationship with my mother, undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and an unlucky love life that absolutely obsessed me. The group I hung out with Les called themselves Saturday Night Group because of their tendency to meet on that night to occasionally cook dinner, watch Star Trek: Next Generation, and talk. Membership rippled in an organic manner — new people showed up, some stayed, and we developed close bonds. I am still friends with many of those people, and I will see many of them at the wake.

He gave. This is what strikes me. He gave to his religious community as a communion bearer, he gave his support to the local LGBTQIA community, he gave to his “kidlings” as he called us. He did not judge us — we who were gay or pagan or atheist or struggling with mental illness or nonwhite or multiracial.  If ever there was a good example of a Christian man, it was my friend Les.

I loved the man. I still do.


So I’m hopefully giving platelets today.

The process behind giving platelets involves doing nothing for two hours while having a needle in one’s arm. You sit in the most comfortable lounge couch with warm blankets and pads and a tv screen in front of you.

I’ve gotten pretty good at surfing the internet one-handed on my phone, and the only tv I ever watch is during these sessions. 

Sometimes I meditate, because it’s pretty quiet in there. Sometimes I watch with wonder as the machine works its magic and seperates the platelets from blood and plasma and gives me back those fluids. 

It’s not two hours wasted. It’s a two-hour break from my mind, which always wants to be busy. And I may be saving someone’s life. 

Day 23 Reflection: Dust

I associate dust with death. It must be my Roman Catholic upbringing and the rites of Ash Wednesday: Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.  I prefer my father’s tongue-in-cheek version: Ashes to ashes, dust to dust; if the Good Lord don’t get you, the Devil must. 

The Biblical metaphor does capture a truth: Life does come from dust. Dust contains numerous forms of tiny life: mites, bacteria, mold spores, plus specks of amino acids. The primordial ooze that begat the first life on earth was dust mixed with water for life.

When I die, I want to be cremated and scattered in a peaceful garden. I want to become nutrients for the grass and flowers. I want to scatter in the wind, become one with the soil. 

I cannot think of a better thing to be than dust.