Tuesday, October 26, 2010

20,088 Days

By William the Henry

My earliest memory: I am racing with millions of others to reach the Sacred Ovum, which will give existence to the winner and consign all losers to eternal oblivion.

I win. I burrow into the life-sustaining sphere and I cling to its wall.

18,262 days later: I'm computing -- from the very day I was born to my 50th birthday in October 2005, I  have spent 18,262 days, give or take a few hours. That’s 365 days multiplied by 50, plus the 12 leap-year days within that time frame. Such a short allotment – not even a round 20,000 sum!

Then I think of all the hours that must be expended to support such a brief life. The first year you spend on sleeping and suckling, peeing and pooing, and being such a cute baby. That’s 365 days gone.

For the rest of your days, you still must spend about eight hours sleeping, a few more hours eating your three meals and, if you wish and dare, a few minutes for snacks. You still have to wash up as soon as you get up, brush your teeth, take a bath, pee and poo, etc. That’s about a 10-hour-a-day tax in your life. Considering that we are only given 24 hours a day, strictly with no extension, the cost of living in this planet seems exorbitant. The VAT of life is about 10/24 = 42.6%.

Geez, and most of us think we still have to relax and rest from time to time, even take a vacation. Now we even have the luxury to chat through the cellphone or the worldwide web. We are rich! We have time to splurge.

Maybe it’s all right if we are always in the fun of things. It’s fun to have your five senses keyed up to the universe. Hook your ears to the music of the Earth, strum the guitar, play the piano, sing a song of love, listen to the rustle of leaves in a hot, quiet afternoon, the rush of the waterfall, the roar of the sea.

Or you can touch the tender skin of sprouting leaves, feel the rich texture of marble, caress your sweetheart. Smell the freshly baked loaf of bread and drool, smell the flowers of nature. Heck! Smell the flower of your sweetheart and drool.

Fifty years have led me to the conclusion that life should be fun, never sad or tragic – no matter what. We must not allow the Grinch to win. And yet what do we do with our hours, our days, our lives? We spend it, according to Thoreau, “seeking to curry favor, to get custom… lying, flattering, voting, contracting yourselves into a nutshell of civility…that you may persuade your neighbor to let you make his shoes, or his hat, or his coat, or his carriage, or import his groceries from him; making yourselves sick, that you may lay up something for a sick day…”

“I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools, for these are more easily acquired than got rid of… Who made them serfs of the soil? Why should they begin digging their graves as soon as they are born?

“But men labor under a mistake. The better part of the man is soon plowed under the soil for compost. By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed…laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal. It is a fool’s life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before.”

Thoreau wrote that more than 150 years ago. He says it best. The gist is: Life is precious, don’t fritter it away. Seize the day!

Note: I wrote this in 2005, when I was shaken by the death of my friend, compadre and mentor, Ody Fabian. He was only 47, and I have survived to reach 50. Three years later, his widow, Beth, followed; she was 47, too. These were good people who succored and saved me in hard times. Nowadays, my outward confidence, after surviving two heart attacks and an aneurysm, is just a bluster. When two people much better than you die before their time, you can only wish you can become just as good. And you do not fear death anymore.
20,088 days today: Now five more years have passed and I'm 55. I did some math, and I realized that some sort of milestone has been marked -- I'm more than 20,088 days old. Finally the round sum is mine.

Last night I was in the middle of Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again, and I paused when I reached this passage:

"This is Man, and one wonders why he wants to live at all. A third of his life is lost and deadened under sleep; another third is given to a sterile labor; a sixth is spent in all his goings and his comings, in the moil and shuffle of the streets, in thrusting, shoving, pawing. How much of him is left, then, for a vision of the tragic stars? How much of him is left to look upon the everlasting earth? How much of him is left for glory and the making of great songs? A few snatched moments only from the barren glut and suck of living."

Thoreau's peroration 150+ years ago on this theme influenced the course of my life. Wolfe, who wrote this in the early 1930s, was succinct, and made me realize that though there is a certain species Homo sapiens, there are also many subspecies of humanity. Not a good thought, but nevertheless painfully true. Now I know why I like Armageddon, Terminator, 2012 and other end-of-the-world movies.

(To be continued, maybe...)