Why do you worry? Consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. They do not worry.
All my life I’ve been waiting. Waiting to start kindergarten. Waiting to turn 16, 21, 65. (I wasn’t waiting to turn 75.)
Waiting to go to high school, for the results of the SAT, to hear from the admissions office. Waiting to graduate, get hired, get married.
Waiting for the birth of our children. Waiting for them to get out of diapers, sleep through the night, go to school, graduate, get married. Waiting for grandchildren.
Waiting to retire.
You’re as fit as a fiddle, says my new doctor. I can’t believe you take no medications at your age. But let’s get you a blood test, an EKG, and ultrasound just to have a baseline for future reference.
Waiting for results.
The cardiologist confirms atrial fibrillation. He’s a bit surprised since I have no symptoms. It’s a silent killer, he tells me. Your risk of stroke is higher than those without a-fib. There’s no cure. Take a blood thinner. You might need more radical interventions later. We’ll wait and see.
Suddenly there’s this tiny dark cloud in my otherwise blue sky. I’m waiting to die, I think. But I know that’s no way to live. I consider my dog Lucy. She’s dying, nearly dead. But she’s not waiting to die.
I wrote Lucy’s eulogy last February (The Eternal Now). The vet had done a blood test and detected renal failure. No cure. We all thought she’d die within a few weeks.
But Paula nursed her along with a special diet, tenderly feeding her by hand. For the past seven months Lucy has bounced along our nature trail with me every morning and bounded up and down the deck steps every evening, chasing her squeaky ball that Paula tossed into the yard.
And then she ground to a halt. No appetite. No bounce. Interminable slumbers.
I reluctantly still say, “mail time” every afternoon. She pushes herself up—somehow—staggers down the steps and up the driveway to the mailbox, wagging her tail.
Lucy’s not waiting to die. She can’t. Lucy can’t imagine (or dread) the future. She only knows now. She’s like the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. She’s fully in this moment. Fully grateful.
At least that’s what her wagging tail seems to say.
Your post really touched me. My Joshua was a black lab mix who brightened my life for nearly 14 years. 10+ years after his passing I still miss him. I have a vivid picture in my mind of him tearing through the brush on the canal trail to jump into the Potomac, and then tearing back to me! ( Yes, I did let him off leash. There were fewer people then on the canal!)
Carlos Castaneda remarked, “Keep death on our shoulder as a wise advisor.” By becoming more conscious of death and nature of life, especially as we age, we can be more aware of and grateful for the wonders of life in the here and now. After all, life has a one hundred per cent mortality rate. Life is indeed fragile and we need to handle it with care. It has been said, “Wag more, bark less.” That wagging tail of Lucy speaks volumes!
And the seasons, they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return, we can only look
Behind, from where we came
And go round and round and round, in the circle game
– the Circle Game by Joni Mitchell
To enjoy the gift of the present and the people we’re with, creation all around us, the beauty we live in is part of what happy means. To keep worry or fear of the future from clouding the present is the foundation of fun.
I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief…For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. —-Wendell Berry
John Lennon is generally given credit for for this crisp little maxim: “Life is what happens while we’re making other plans.” I know well what you mean about waiting for these artificially erected age milestone: Age 13, coming of age; 16, obtaining a driver’s license; 18, finally becoming an adult, but finding that you now have to start being responsible for yourself and then trying to ignore that fact, even though you want the perks of adulthood. (Whatever those are? I’m still searching.). Age 25, a drop in auto insurance rates; 30, because young folks won’t trust you anymore but they never did; 50, “One foot in the grave and another on a banana peel,” another of my dad’s famous “Willy-isms”. Age 60, because we realize that age is/isn’t just a number; 70, and thinking you’re no longer responsible for your action with which most of us have had a hot and cold relationship with over the course of our lives. Age 72, my current place on the great carousel of life, and realizing that I am what I am and that’s all that I am. So what difference does it make anyway? “Life goes on within you and without you.” Live while we have life. Something will eventually be along to collect us.
I love an excuse to pull out this quote from Percy Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. It was beautifully intoned by John Gielgud to accompany Vaughn Williams’ “Sinfonia Antarctia,” written for the soundtrack of the movie, “Scott of the Antarctic.” (not a comedy):
“To suffer woes which hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy power which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear, to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.”
Here’s to Lucy and her happy tail ! What wonderful comments from your readers. Age is sobering but then I let the pondering float away and stretch a little further and take a few more steps.
Connecting with my ‘ocean breath’, that breath that comes in like the tide, turns around and goes out like the tide, is my saving grace, the most handy way for me to bring myself into the present and appreciate it for a while. Lucy doesn’t have to do that; my cat Meggles doesn’t have to do that; they are already doing that, living in the present all of the time which is why we need them in our lives to remind us, to put us in that space just by being around them and loving them.
Appreciating the diminishing energy that comes with age and accepting that there is no longer a need to knock myself out doing everything I used to is not waiting to die, but life does need more reflection and planning for this new chapter than I have realized. Thanks, and thanks to all of the contributions from your readers.
My friend Edward told me some months ago that the family beagle, Penny, had been diagnosed with renal failure. She began losing weight, often wouldn’t eat. Penny was not expected to live much longer. Several weeks ago, Penny stopped eating. Jason, the neighbor friend, had Penny out for a walk; Jason often does this as he seems to love Penny. I was sitting outside, eating a slice of re-heated four-day old Domino’s pizza. Jason and Penny stopped to talk. Penny kept edging toward me, sniffing the remaining slice of pizza. Without thinking I tore off a half a slice of the crust. Jason said, she won’t eat it. Penny gobbled it down. Jason was astounded. Penny kept sniffing. I gave her the remaining piece of pizza. She snuffed it down. Since then, Edward and his wife Lorrie have been buying Penny Domino’s pizza. She’s been known to eat a whole pizza during the day. She’s gaining weight and still active. You just never know what a slice of pizza can do for your life.
Note: I own no stock in Domino’s Pizza.
This really strikes a chord for me. Thank you for putting into words all those “waiting for” events… mutual human connections to time passing by. And I deeply appreciate the song lyrics, poems and other words of wisdom shared by others here as well. All of these turns of life’s pages are markers of living life. And learning to cherish, appreciate and live in the moment is a worthy effort.
Contemplation, Reflection, and learning the lessons that are all around in nature – especially from our beloved companion fur babies – to other creatures and living “things”: the plant people, the standing ones, the two leggeds, the four leggeds, creepy crawlers, the finned, the furred, the winged ones!
Birds of many species have entered my life of late – soaring, taking flight, singing… in the face of certain death and all other uncertainties… I find waiting, doing & being – patiently and with gratitude – sharing these stories along the way… fills me with deep love and heart connections…Thank you🙏🏼💓
Touching for so many reasons. And so much truth.
Celebrating our niece’s wedding with family–smaller by two with the death of my sister and brother. But still have a brother and nieces and nephews and great nephews. And, we are told, a great niece coming in November. Not getting any younger, but finding things–including Lucy–to celebrate. Thank you.
As a poet and zen master said earlier today, animals “know they are home, infinitely” because they live in the “now.” We humans have the same opportunity if we learn when to use the strategic mind and when to set it to grazing so that “presence in the infinite” can overtake us.
Your readers have captured me today with their exquisite poetry and wise responses, all responses to your wisdom and Lucy’s. Thank you all. Namaste 🙏🏼.