Thursday, December 07, 2006

We Begin To Die ...

As I am contemplating my 93rd birthday this coming Christmas Eve, my thoughts are, of course, on life with all its mysteries, and on death with some mysteries of its own. As has been said, "If we knew all about anything, we would know all about everything". I am still alive, but not as "alive" as I once was, and I realize that this process has been gradual and inexorable. As I approach death, I ask questions concerning when I was most alive, and I have reason to think it was just following that lucky sperm being allowed into that lucky egg. The speed of division and specialization was never so great again. I am very aware that my cell replication and repair processes are still slowing, and that this can only result in something vital not happening, or not happening correctly enough. Then I will, for the record, die, although many of my tissues will be sufficiently alive to be usable by a lucky, compatible, somebody. This is a fascinating thought, that parts of me might "live" after I have died.

Taken all together, though, I would choose to stay here &mdash in one piece and in good shape, of course &mdash indefinitely longer. I would not object to being the oldest human on the planet by a hundred years or so. Or would I? Some things, like sex and good food, might lose their sensory appeal altogether. In any case, this is not my decision to make. We cannot reverse, or even alter, the arrow of time. Tissues will repair more slowly and less perfectly, and eventually some tissue we need will fail entirely. As we slow, we prepare to die, and then we do.


At 11:04 PM, Blogger matrix said...

Wow. Thanks for posting this. It's something I think of quite often and I'm only 36. I lost my mother a few years ago and just this year I lost my father. I'm still young but I don't have the energy I used to. Life is interesting not really knowing what's next and why we even here. The concept of being is just odd when you realize it. A bit like a dream. I always wonder what it will be like at your age if I do make it. Keep posting. It's inspiring and I love what you have to say.

At 2:12 AM, Blogger kinziephoto said...

Thanks for writing that - it makes me feel some how comforted! I hope that I can remember that as I approach the slowing down of things.

:) I'm 38 and my knees don't work anymore... is that the beginning ? heh


At 3:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Don,

I just wanted you to know how interesting and insightful I find your blog. It's definately one of my favorites and I hope you stay around a lot longer to write more. I'm 22 also living in Canada and I always love to hear the stories and insights of our elderly. It's so rare to find one who can use the Internet let alone share their thoughts and stories on a blog. Not enough people take the time to listen and learn! Keep it up, you're a great and engaging writer!

-Chad E.

At 4:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone I loved a great deal died this past July, two months shy of his 36th birthday. He had liver cancer and decided to tell nobody, because he wanted to keep all his relationships pure. He had less than six months to discover and come to terms with this disease, and in the last month, knew without a doubt the end was near. Two days before his death he was in Alaska, riding Class 4 rapids. He rode out his death with the same beauty and bravery he faced his too-short and too-difficult life. It is all any of us can aspire to - to live our lives to the fullest, be charitable and kind toward others, and hope that when death comes for us that it will be similarly charitable and kind toward us.

At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm 36 years old and this is the week of the death of a 74 year old cousin, and the birthday of my 76 year old aunt.

I think your thoughts are universal, and they resonate with me.

I guess the question is, given the choice of a reduced existance or no existance (on this plane at least.... ) I wonder what most people would choose. Personally I think I would choose continued existance, but one never really knows....

At 10:50 AM, Blogger Alex Pendragon said...

Don, hopefully, you will find yourself on a whole new journey when the old machine finally throws that rod and you come to a screeching halt. I don't expect to get anywhere near your age, so I'm just going to soak up every bit of wisdom I can gather, including yours, thank you, just in case it has any value on the other side, which I do not fear visiting, for I know well that I have no choice in the matter.

At 3:50 PM, Blogger Gunter said...

Dear Don,
First of all I have to say that I admire the detachment with which you observe the passing of time and the effect on your own body.
But I am very sure that you will be around for a long time - Well past the time the very last of your tissues carried in other bodies will have dissolved into thin air.
Your friends might not recognize you as they identify you with your body - heck - maybe not even you will recognize yourself if you identify yourself with you body.
Just realizing myself - perhaps I should fight you for the title of the oldest blogger and claim this title for myself - even though in this body I am only (!) 54.
Gunter -

At 5:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This past decade I have lost many--my last parent and a number of friends.

The youngest, 20, was taken by a bazaar incident that no one could have foreseen and that he could have done nothing to stop. That was the worst. There is a merciless quality.

He had gone from being an angry, lost teen with no resources or prospects to becoming, in less than two years, a furniture craftsman whose creations were in high demand throughout the Northwestern U.S. He had found friends and mentors and acceptance and purpose and prosperity and a future.

His mother, so overjoyed, thankful and relieved at the skyrocketing success of the struggling son she had committed her life to, was reduced to a shell of a person.

That incident will never be a comfortable memory for me.

Nevertheless, my respect for mortality only grows as I contemplate the fact that I am likely well past my half-way point. That point simply changes ones outlook on th future.

How many can really decide when their termination should be? Any point between mortality and immortality is arbitrary.

Should it be when one ceases to be productive,
after one has had a fair chance, once one has run the natural course of their life,
when medicine can no longer do the job,
when one can no longer afford immortality drugs,
when one forgets who his parents were,
when one can no longer remember all one's careers,
when 'now' is render irrelevant by a limitless future,
when one starts putting things off because there will always be enough time later no matter the severity of today,
when one gets so bored that it is unbearable to live,
when the birth control commission determines to open a slot for a newborn,
when the sun explodes?

Our mortality gives us everything between our beginning and our end and renders it meaningful. And what would we have to give if there would always be time to give it later.

Mortality constitutes the single most defining aspect of humanity.

That makes mortality, however cruel, also precious.


At 10:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Don:

I've lived a good life and I would not trade my life for the life of a child today.

I enjoyed my childhood in the 1960s to 1970s when the world was still 'pure' enough for young children to be innocent and free.

My teen years were great. In the 1980s, music videos emerged and the best bands competed for attention. Even the 1970s songs cheered me up because of their optimism. Even Dionne Warwick's mellow voice when singing, "Heartbreaker" leaves me feeling good about love irrevokably lost.

The 1990s weren't so interesting. I tried to 'recapture' my youth by going to nightclubs, but the night scene was beginning to look depressing and dangerous.

Today in the 21st century, I avoid nightlife altogether. I curl up with a good mystery novel and enjoy every evening with a cup of peppermint tea.

I don't regret not having an external nightlife anymore. I remember the 1980s and how much fun it was to dance and party when back then most small nightclubs were not given liquor licences. Fruit drinks, pure adrenaline, and the rhythm of the music sufficed.

I have memories of images of the first moon landing, of actual lives shots of fans screaming over Bruce Lee, Elvis Presley, and John Lennon, and of many moments when I was having fun with other children making up new games with paper, rocks, and sand because our parents could not afford to buy us toys.

I am glad I am older. I can relax now. I've experienced all the best things that the world offered me in my youth.

Thank you for putting our lives into perspective.

At 12:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don, I check for new wisdom from you every day. At 22, the last thing I would be expected to be doing is reading something by an "old timer", but here you are. I decided to put things in order and one of those "in orders" was to open my eyes to the world, gain perspective. And every time you commit words into the ether that is the internet, anyone who takes the time to read them will benefit.

Here's to many more years of your wit and wisdom. Hurrah!

At 2:06 AM, Blogger Lam Chun See said...

Hi Don, I am 54 and from Singapore. Interesting that you used the term 'arrow of time'. The Chinese have an idiom that goes, "Time is like an arrow. Age is without mercy."

At 5:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's strange. I'm 22 and I've been using the internet in one form or another almost since it's inception. The blogging phenomenon has mostly passed me by in these last few years; I never understood the appeal. Recently, I've been discovering that there is much, much more to the internet than I previously imagined. Your blog is one of those wondrous things. Thank you for braving the roaring cachophany of the interweb to bring us your life-earned wisdom.


At 4:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Don. When I think about aging and dying I am more concerned about the process than I am about the end result. It's sort of like travel, these days. The process is uncomfortable - waiting in lines, ecurity clearance in your sock feet, cramped planes, lousy or no food (not sure which is worse)and the bills. On the other hand, once you reach your destination you have an opportuity to experience something new and different - who knows what you may discover.

Aging, dying and "What's on the other side?" are a similar process from my perspective. I don't want to be uncomfortable or in pain but I am interested in "What's next?"

I was brought up a Catholic but have moved on to a point where Taoism looks like a reasonable view of that future. It may be right or I may be in for a big surprise. I love surprises!

I'm 56 so a while short of your 92 - soon to be 93. You give me hope for a continued enjoyable experience on this plane.

Keep it up.

At 12:06 PM, Blogger Mandora the Explorer said...

Don, you inspire.

I'm only 23, but due to repeated health scares I've long ago made piece with the idea that we all have our time and can't fight the inevitable. I'm reassured when others seem to approach our ending in like fashion.

Your blog has made it to the top of my reading list - please continue your great work and happy birthday from a fellow canadian and northern ontario brat.

At 5:23 PM, Blogger KareAnderson said...

what a vital, wise man you are - clearly touching the lives of many at this holiday time. I am so happy that a friend at the Canadian Library Asn. "introduced" you to me via your blog.

You brought some sayings to mind:

“We all want a partner to witness our lives, so that our lives will matter to someone.”
~ in the movie “Shall We Dance?”, Susan Sarandon’s character

“I wanted a perfect ending... Now, I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.“
~ Gilda Radner

Here's to a holiday you can savor Don, knowing how many lives you are touching.
- Kare, SavvyHer

At 2:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You say it's not your choice how long you live, but you must be doing something right to have gotten to 93.

That is way past the average age of a Canadian or American.

Please tell us your secrets :)


At 7:34 PM, Blogger PeaceBang said...

Greetings from a fellow Capricorn!

I am a pastor and was visiting recently with one of my congregants who is a few years older than you. He also has an incredibly vibrant mind and was feeling down because some of his vital functions are giving him some trouble and he fears that he may be slowing down and nearing the end. We were just sitting together contemplating that truth (my religion doesn't rely on the usual bromides about "God's plan" or promises of a blissful existence in heaven). I said, "R., you're so in love with life and the workings of your own mind, and it's a beautiful thing to see. Your body, however, has its own ideas about how this all goes."

And we just laughed and sat there holding hands. It's the first time he's been in a wheelchair and neither of us liked it at all. I'm used to seeing him in his garden.

Your blog is just lovely. Big hugs to you.

At 7:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm 28 now, and reading a Margaret Laurence book at the moment. An exerpt: "Sometimes a person feels that something else must have been meant to happen in your own life, or is this all there's ever going to be, just like this? Until I die. What'll it be like to die? Not able to breathe? Fighting for air? Or letting everything slide away, seeing shapes like shadows that used to be people, nothing real because in a minute you won't be real anymore? Holy Mary, Mother of God, be with me now and in the hour of my death. If only I could say that, but no. My father's dead face, looking no different except the eyes closed, and I thought his face had been dead for a long time before he died, so what did it matter, but I didn't believe that. Something should happen before it's too late. Idiot-child, what more could happen? What more do you want?"

I do want more... is living until the sun eats the earth really too much to ask for?

At 4:42 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Owing to my wild-ranging moodswings that I began to have at the onset of puberty, and are now, at the age of 36, being controlled by medication, I have accepted that one day, I shall die from my early teens onward. I will probably not get cancer, for if my individual parts work like my whole spirit (and I have more reason backed by faith & emperical evidence to believe that, indeed, this is the case), they will reign themselves in, or self-destruct should they become godless & monstrous.

My willingness to self-destruct has been called insane, cowardly, weak, and worse... usually by someone who is angry that matters of life and death cannot be used to manipulate me; Furthermore, that I'm still here, despite going through several levels of self-made and man-made hells (as well as heavens...!), well... lets just say I wouldn't ask anybody to walk my path in my shoes without also lending them my brain, heart & spirit, so that they might get through without being wrecked.

Anyhow, it's good to calmly consider ones beliefs about what's to come with death. An atheist who is also not a spiritualist is looking at the disolution of awareness and the cessation of experience and will; To me, this is the definition of perfect restful peace, and I'm fine with such an outcome.

Things become more interesting as beliefs about next lives are built upon that foundation, and I suspect that there's still time to have numerous choices. As a cautionary note, some next life choices might cease to be available or desireable as this world degrades; one might not wish to re-incarnate to an earth-bound creature if the earth becomes not such a great place to be anymore for anyone... as the case seems to be.


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