When Do You Stop Clapping?

The West Coast is on fire. The Southeast is underwater, and it’s only the start of hurricane season. Nazis are feeling their oats, and the jackass we elected President is having a pissing match with a nuclear power when he’s not announcing his intention to deport a million people who are better citizens than he or I have ever been. Daily life is surreal, like we’re clapping and clapping, trying to believe hard enough to bring Tinkerbell back to life. Tinkerbell being a world where it makes sense to do things like buy houses and have children and plan for your retirement.

When do you stop clapping? When do you stop thinking the world will go on as it has, and start planning for contingencies that were science fiction two years ago? What does that even mean? Buy a gun? A bunch of canned food and bottled water? Order an apocalypse kit from the Mormons on Amazon and stop at every gas station you pass so when the moment comes you’ll have a full tank? Where will you even go?

I’m sitting here with a to-do list a mile long. I’ve got businesses to grow, a novel to finish, people who expect me to make things for them and do things to make their homes nicer. But I look outside, and I can’t see the fucking sky for the smoke, and people in the place I grew up (Florida) are bracing for a hurricane that’ll ravage the whole state whichever of the approximately five thousand possible paths it might take heading inland it ultimately does.

I’m sitting here paralyzed, because if Tinkerbell’s dead then I’m crazy to worry over what things make a normal life. If she isn’t I need to clap harder than ever, knowing it might not be enough. We all do, together.

I honestly don’t know what’s to come. Whatever it turns out to be will be hard, for all of us. It already is.

I don’t have much in the way of encouraging words today. So I’ll borrow some from people much wiser than I.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
-Fred Rogers

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
-Gandhi

Why Thinking About Death Will Make Your Life Easier and Better

We’re all conflicted sometimes. We find ourselves at a crossroads, looking one way, then the other, trying to see down the road to where it goes and what’ll happen to us along the way. Each has its virtues, each its shortcomings. The tradeoffs can be murky. Or not. Sometimes it’s a matter of what to prioritize. Career or family? Passion or stability? Travel or save your money? The right answer depends on so many factors it can feel impossible to game them out clearly enough to pick. The one thing you can be sure of is you can’t have it all. You have to choose.

For some of us – and I count myself as such a person – it can be paralysing, and we get stuck in a loop, hemming and hawing and unable to commit until outside forces make the decision for us. It’s a relief, in a way, since we’re absolved of the emotional consequences of making a hard decision. But there’s always ‘What if..?” The what-ifs will dog you, never leave you in peace.

So how does a person make hard decisions? It’s a question each person must answer themselves. Different people will have different answers, but here’s mine:

I imagine myself on my deathbed. The end is nigh. There’s no more time, no chance to change what’s come before. It is, as they say, all over but the crying.

What would I wish I had done?

Nine times out of ten, the answer becomes clear immediately.

No one likes to think about death, especially their own. I get it. It’s scary. And whatever you think comes after, whether it’s heaven or reincarnation or just… nothing, there’s little question that death is the end of the story of your life.

But in the face of death, life clarifies. The jumble of conflicting priorities pulling you this way and that gets a lot simpler. What matters, what really matters, jumps to the forefront of your consciousness, shining and obvious, and the provisional and secondary drops away. It isn’t gone, but its volume is reduced, its relative importance put into perspective. Decisions become much easier.

I first came to this realization decades ago, as a college student. But it wasn’t until my mother died eight years ago that it really hit home. I mourned my own loss, of course. But what broke my heart hardest was knowing that she had died without ever really being happy. Maybe happy isn’t the word I’m looking for, since we most all of us are afforded some happy moments in life. Maybe the word I’m looking for is content.

See, my mother always did what was expected of her. She got married, had a kid, worked hard, saved her money. All the things society says lead to a full and happy life. But she was always nagged by the feeling that she was missing something, and all the hoops she jumped dutifully through did not deliver the promised reward. She wasn’t bitter about it – well, sometimes, sure – but there was a kind of sadness in her, as if the life she lived and the choices she made were those expected of her, and not what she might have chosen for herself. Indeed, I don’t know if she ever knew what her true self might have chosen, because the weight of expectation life put on her gave her little chance to explore who that was. The best I ever heard her explain it was she felt like she was an artist who never found her medium.

That, more than anything – even my own loss – broke my heart when she died. All her chances were used up. There was no time left to turn things around, to find the medium that would let her true self express, to live a life worth dying for.

And of all the lessons her passing taught me, that’s the one that stuck firmest in my consciousness. That only when confronted with death do we know what is most valuable in life.

And so, to this day and til my last, that’s what I think of when I decide what to do, what choice to make, how to live my life. When I am on my deathbed, and there is no more time, what would I wish I had done?

Death and My Birthday, or What I Learned from David Bowie and Brent McDonald

As some of you may know, it was my birthday yesterday. My forty-third, to be exact. So I was already in a contemplative mood, thinking about where I’m at and where I’m going, and whether or not any course corrections are called for.

Death was already on my mind. See, a friend I’d lost touch with was murdered not long before Christmas, and his memorial service was scheduled for yesterday. His partner was someone I was once close with, so of course I had to go. I missed the service (seating was limited, and I didn’t think it appropriate to take up a spot), but I went to the reception after, which was a lovely, well-attended affair. Sad though the reason for it was, it was good to reconnect with my friend, and to see her daughter, who I’d known since she was an infant and who has grown into a quite impressive young lady.

I had dinner after with my girlfriend and father, and swung by a party not held in my honor, and both were quite lovely. Later, on my own, I went round the corner to my favorite watering hole, and sipped on some single malt and did some thinking.

That’s where I was when I heard about David Bowie. Continue reading “Death and My Birthday, or What I Learned from David Bowie and Brent McDonald”