Today marks an event I never expected to see. Old Sol’s about to light things up, shake his head and shrug when he looks down and sees I am here again, come spang around him one more time. Sixty-nine times I’ve gone around him and come to this same spot, tipped my hat and said hi.
Here’s the reason neither Old Sol, nor I, had any reason to expect this:
Back in the late 1970s I had occasion to spend some time looking around nursing homes. I managed to do it enough times and look them over closely enough to convince myself that we Americans haven’t kept our eye on the ball when it comes to living and being alive.
The people in those nursing homes are alive, but they aren’t overjoyed about it, and the life they’re living only has in common with actual life that the bodies and food are warm. The caretakers roll them back and forth or they hobble between television sets, meals, games, then through the long hallways filled with the forever odor of urine, back to their rooms.
I did a lot of thinking about why that happens, those mass coffins for the living. Of one thing I was certain. I didn’t want it to happen to me.
The reason, I decided, people end up in those places is because they live longer than they’d have expected to, wanted to. The reason they lived so long was that they took all kinds of measures to make certain they did, increasing the intensity and focus as the years built up on them.
Every year those elderly reduced the numbers and kinds of risks they took. They watched their diets, quit doing things they enjoyed when they were younger, many barely did anything at all as they reached into the advanced years of retirement besides a golf game or sea cruise.
And they got what they paid for. Lives that endured long past anything a person would call living. They sidestepped and hid and and ran from Death, and he didn’t find them when he was supposed to. So now they sit around strapped into wheel chairs watching rolling television screens paying the price for being too worried about dying when they were still alive.
That’s when I came to an important conclusion about how I wanted to live my own life.
From that time until now one of the rituals I’ve tried to perform around birthday time and New Years Day involves examination of the physical risks I’m taking now, and how I’m going to increase them during the coming year. And how I’m going to stay as far as possible away from do-gooder, busybody medicos and CPR-knowers sticking their noses in my living experience getting me cross-wise with Death.
How I’m going to be out there when Death comes looking for me, in a place where he can find me, doing something I love to do.
Loudon Wainwright– High Wide and Handsome