Seasons change young man...
Nevertheless, that reality of you fully understanding will not stop me. It is the Don Quixote-esque in me. I will attempt, as did my friend, Forrester, to share with you a learning that in reality is unattainable if you are not in your winter of your lives. Those that are old and have danced with death are the only ones capable of gripping this knowledge. Nonetheless, trust me even though your minds have not been jolted into a fuller comprehension of life. How can you understand something that you have not even come close to experiencing?
Having said that, read this article. You will not fully understand what Forrester and I know due to our ages, but store our insight for a time closer to your winter. Forrester and I will be gone by then, but wrestle with that foretaste now.
Forrester tells Jamal, his writing student, that one understands more complexly as one gets older. Forrester and I are both aware that we see and understand life more fully now that we are in the winter of our lives. Indeed, because of this more encompassing Weltanschauung, there is much for both of us to do in a limited time remaining.
As I type out this essay, I can hear a crescendo of doubting Thomases out there saying, "I know that I will die; it is a given." I would respond that you could not really know your finiteness. You can approximate that reality by seeing family members or other people die, but you cannot fully absorb that knowledge in the season you are now.
Let me give you a personal illustration. My parents had three boys. I was the first and born in the midst of WWII. After the war, my parents had two more boys: Ken and Gary. All three of us were born about 4-years separating each of us. We came into a normal middle-class family. However, my mother had breast cancer when I was 10. It was not long after her radical mastectomy for the cancer that she developed a crippling case of rheumatoid arthritis and finally lupus. She dealt with lupus for a decade.
My mother died in her early 50s looking like a women in her mid-80s, weighing maybe 90 pounds, and hardly able to move. My father, who worked long hours to provide for his family, was well at her death or so we thought. However, within 6-months, he needed a triple bypass but had to settle for a double bypass due to the location of the other occlusion. He died after another decade and a half of suffering and pain. I knew more about death and dying than most kids growing up in America did. However, knowing has dimensionality. I knew at one level, which allowed me to see and prepare for their deaths.
Knowing that reality at one level caused me to exercise every day. In high school and college, I ran cross-country. I did not run, because I was a good runner; I was not. I ran because I knew that I did not want to die...not like my parents. In the half-century since being in shape in my high school and college days, I have used over the past half-century two different stationary bikes, a regular bike, two elliptical machines, a treadmill, and a kayak to stay in shape. Hardly a day goes by that I do not do 45-minutes of cardiovascular exercise. I worked out just a couple hours prior to starting this essay. I know that we will all die...someday. That reality has been with me for about 50 of my 70-years here on earth.
Having said that, I freely confess as I look back upon a half century of exercising that I did not fully understand my finiteness...until 2008. In that year, I did realize that I was truly finite. I danced with death and not merely watched others dance and die. I went to the University of Chicago Hospital for a robotic removal of my prostate due to cancer. However, the cancer had gotten outside the prostate. I returned a couple years later for two months of radiation. I go back every six months for PSA readings realizing that cancer is still lurking within me.
A couple months later, I fell off a ladder while painting our porch and hit my head on a concrete block wall around our patio. The blow to the head caused a subdural hematoma or what we know as bleeding in the brain. I was in ICU or intermediate ICU for a month and do not recall any moment in the hospital. Then I went to a rehabilitation hospital for another 3-weeks. Only the last half of that stay do I recall anything of my time there. Looking back upon my life, I know that I am terminal. It is surely only a matter of time.
Therefore, trust me. Unless you have danced with death, you cannot truly appreciate several things: your life has an end, the brevity of your life, and your clock is ticking louder and louder. Forrester could hear the clock ticking also and wrote this letter to his student, Jamal:
Dear Jamal, Someone I once knew wrote that we walk away from our dreams afraid that we may fail or worse yet, afraid we may succeed. You need to know that while I knew so very early that you would realize your dreams, I never imagined I would once again realize my own. Seasons change young man, and while I may have waited until the winter of my life, to see the things I've seen this past year, there is no doubt I would have waited too long, had it not been for you.
Seasons changed for Forrester, and they will change for Jamal. Your seasons will change for you also. Trust me. Here are a handful of suggestions that I offer all my readers even though most of you will not get the urgency to these suggestions.
Losing family obliges us to find our family, not always the family that is our blood, but the family that can become our blood. And should we have the wisdom to open our door to this new family, we will find that the wishes we once had for the father who once guided us and the brother who once inspired us to those wishes...
Forrester and I want all our family to pass on our learnings and your learnings to the next generation.
Visit The Mentors and Me page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Dancing with Death page to read more about this topic.
Visit the "Don Quixote" page to read more about this topic.