A welcome to readers

As a resident of this planet for more than four fifths of a century, I have enjoyed both successes and disappointments in a wide variety of vocations, avocations, and life experiences. This blog satisfies my desire to share some thoughts and observations--trenchant and prosaic--with those who are searching for diversions which are interesting, poignant and occasionally funny. I also plan to share recommendations about good/great movies I've watched and books and articles which I've found particularly mind-opening, entertaining, instructive. In addition, I can't pass up the opportunity to reflect publicly on how I am experiencing the so-called Golden Years. Write anytime:

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Read this poem by Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets, and then let's talk

Walking to Oak-Head Pond, and
Thinking of the Ponds I Will Visit in the
Next Days and Weeks

Mary Oliver

What is so utterly invisible
as tomorrow?
Not love,
not the wind,
not the inside of stone.
Not anything.
And yet, how often I'm fooled-
I'm wading along
in the sunlight-
and I'm sure I can see the fields and the ponds shining
days ahead-
I can see the light spilling
like a shower of meteors
into next week's trees,
and I plan to be there soon-
and, so far, I am
just that lucky,
my legs splashing
over the edge of darkness,
my heart on fire.
I don't know where
such certainty comes from-
the brave flesh
or the theater of the mind-
but if I had to guess
I would say that only
what the soul is supposed to be
could send us forth
with such cheer
as even the leaf must wear
as it unfurls
its fragrant body, and shines
against the hard possibility of stoppage-
which, day after day,
before such brisk, corpuscular belief,
shudders, and gives way.

from What Do We Know, Volume V, Number 3, Summer 2001
Perseus Books Group
Copyright 2001 by Mary Oliver.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced with permission
* * * * * * * *

Through most of my life, for whatever reasons, I have been regularly reminded of my own mortality, spent a lot of time in my head worrying about dying.

Occasionally I have obsessed about it. Those who know me well will tell you that I am a victim of both catastrophic thinking and  incipient hypochondria.  Any bump is, by definition, cancer or something else incurable. Skin rash equals melanoma, automatically. A headache is reflexively a brain tumor, incurable of course.

 I can remember spending several weeks in bed as a boy with an undiagnosed disease that the family doctor (PCP) thought initially might be polio, the scourge of the 40's. Somehow, as a young boy,  I never thought I would "get" polio or, if I did, that I would die from it,  at least immediately. Turns out I was right;  I had an indeterminate virus of some sort and recovered without incident. Ducked that bullet. But worried all the time I was getting well.

Over the years I had many other health scares, this time real, the initial and most serious involving unnatural noises picked up by my doc's stethoscope, sounds being made by my blood as it passed through my heart's damaged aortic valve. This discovery worried me plenty, but not enough for me to change some damaging eating, drinking, and life-style habits. And, it was not serious enough for surgical intervention at that time. But it was always in the back of my mind to dig out and ruminate about at odd moments.

Several years later in 1971, I was in a serious (should have been fatal) automobile accident; the whole front end of my vehicle was totally ripped away by a speeding Mercedes and deposited many hundreds of feet down the road; there was no dash or steering wheel or windshield left in front of me. Somehow I walked away with a slightly stiff neck and nothing else--except a moderately strong and lasting case of survivors' guilt. To reference Mary Oliver,  My "leaf" was still blissfully unfurled.

During all this time, from my Twenties  through into my Sixties, I knew intellectually that death was posited as the inevitable end of life for all living creatures, me included.  I had read novels and poems and the Bible, attended operas and plays, visited the bereaved in funeral homes, so I knew about death and mortality in my head just like I know that there is gravity or that the world is round.  But this was not the same as me feeling it or acknowledging it viscerally, in the gut of my self-understanding.

In those earlier years, it was almost impossible for me to conceive of me not being in this world, enjoying it or, in reverse, of the world not having me around to enjoy in return. I knew abstractly that someday I would cease to be, but I never allowed myself to dwell concretely on that reality, to feel the vacancy created by my absence, to fantasize about my visual lights going out for the last time never to go on again, to speculate on what it would be like to consciously draw what I knew to be a last breath or think a last thought knowing it was the last, or relish a memory that I knew to be the last time ever that I would have that pleasure. But change happened over time and outside of my awareness.

Now at 75, I look in the mirror and see wrinkles where there was once smooth skin, I see brown spots where there were once "cute" freckles, white hair has replaced the red, I feel flaccidity where there was once  rigidity and muscularity, accustom myself to shortness of breath and weakness of limbs and sore joints; and now having  had three cancer diagnoses, operations and treatments, and having had that faulty heart valve replaced by one from a pig that was sacrificed so that I could live, I find that thinking about my own death is no longer foreign and abstract.  I can much too easily imagine the last light of day, the final thought,  the dimenuendo of a fading, final memory, the Coda without a Da Capo, flesh returning to dust and being transported molecularly through all the remaining life in our cosmos. I really am getting old--surprise! So,  that which was only conceivable in a distant future is a reality of "now." I am sort of in shock, amazed, and often scared of the unknown.

I guess that pondering Oliver's thoughts on the  "Hard Possibility of Stoppage" is not inherently productive until you reach a "certain age," and then this musing does create, at least in me, a freshly honed mental acuity that allows me to see my life and the lives of those around me with sharpened, focused clarity and a somewhat more balanced perspective about what does and doesn't make a difference--as viewed from the Coda, a/k/a Oliver's Stoppage Time.

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