We all need to be better at being
October 3, 2006
My cardiologist, Dr. Tim Lombard, was explaining to me the complex nature of atrial fibrillation and the risks it poses as we age.
Atrial fibrillation is a very prevalent heart condition, which I have, so I was hanging on his every word. Understandably, he was running in to some serious difficulty trying to convey a basic point to a common, less educated person like myself. He could see that he had to find a simple explanation that even I could understand.
Distracted while trying to listen to my pulse and talk at the same time, with all the confidence of his education and experience, finally the good doctor adroitly proclaimed, with all the necessary emphasis and dramatic pauses, “It’s …better… if …you’re young”.
We both laughed so loud I’m sure that every patient in the huge office was, at least for a moment, a kid again, if not instantly healed. I said something like, “Oh! OK doc, thanks for the advice. I’ll see what I can do”.
I resolved to take Dr. Lombard’s sage advice to heart. I refuse to grow old. From now on I’m getting younger. I’m going to wake up every morning in this beautiful land of ours, presided over by the devil himself, ignore all the bad news, constant bickering and strife and go for a bike ride. If there’s too much snow I’ll make a snowman, or a slide.
Being referred to Dr. Lombard was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. He and his office staff have been very generous. I have to be really nice to him. He may operate on me someday. If that happens I know I will be in good hands. I might even come out of it decades younger, like I just took a swim in the fountain of youth.
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I wish. The stark realism of death in the North Tahoe and Truckee communities lately has been quite sobering. You can’t help but take notice when a lot of people your own age die unexpectedly within a very short period of time. Makes me wonder when its my turn.
Autumn is actually a very appropriate time to contemplate death. Sound like a bad idea? Only if you think about the bad part, silly. The trick is to just think about the good part.
Suddenly, the simple things matter most. That is how Life should be. In the extreme excess and blindness of American capitalism and materialism we tragically mistake consumption for well being. Then, our worldly pursuits lose all their substance and meaning up against the inescapable edge of the Grim Reaper’s blade.
And well they should. Whether we are building a boathouse, buying a home, creating a trust fund, running for office, improving education, snorting more cocaine, wasting away at the casinos, abusing all manner of illegal substances or trying to save the environment, what good is it if it prevents us from enjoying and appreciating the most simple act of all, the act of being?
We have more trouble with the idea of being than we do with the word “death.” Awareness of being is almost alien to our culture, yet it is the one thing that humans desire most ” simply to be, to exist. Think about it. It’s what we do most, even more than we breathe. Might as well learn how to do it right. This moment is really all we have. It is more fully experienced with nothing.
A realistic, daily and frequent contemplation of our own mortality makes us question our personal priorities, our own opinions and reasons for living. We see things fresh. If we can’t do that we will never grow as individuals, families, communities or as a nation.
Being ambitious, industrious, productive and successful helps, but they are not essential. We have made them the most important virtues of our society at the expense of much greater virtues. They have become as almighty as gods.
Those who don’t dutifully practice them risk becoming outcasts in what some call the most benevolent and religious nation on earth. What is essential may die with them.