TheDyingMan

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Last summer, my dear friend Jamie learned that he was dying. That previously unexplained weakness in his arm, the doctor explained, seemed to be caused by ALS. While there’s no definitive test for ALS, he’d backed into the diagnosis by a scrupulous process of elimination. (Scrupulous process of crap, I mentally reacted to this news.) Having investigated every other alternative, the conclusion was clear. Jamie was dying. Not today, not tomorrow, but sooner, not later.

The philosophers insist that birth is the primary cause of death among all living beings, not just man, but perhaps man alone shaves that broad assertion into innumerable categories: fire, ice, etc. Any suffice. Some of us look back at our forebears wondering if we inherited their catastrophe gene. Others pass on the right without once acknowledging the mortal peril they create for themselves. How the end comes might matter less than that it inevitably will come. My aging cats seem blithely unaware of their own impending demise. Some days it’s about all I can think about.

I’m a sometimes depressive. Some days, I’m up and productive, other days find me curled in the fetal position under the bed. I ruminate darkly, shutting myself off from any source of light. I fuss about stuff. I might be missing the old days or dreading tomorrow. I experience my most depressive moments far removed from the here and now.

The present seems the handiest cure for even my depression. Engage me and I’m fine. Nudge me into my past or shove me into an uncertain future, and I seem to disappear, replaced with a darker, despondent David; one even I hardly recognize.

I expected Jamie to respond to his diagnosis with a tad more flamboyance than he exhibited. He admits that he has experienced some bad days, but he seemed to set to work actively accepting what might be characterized as his fate. He took a long road trip visiting family. He planned an excursion to Greece. These weren’t mere bucket list trivialities. He seemed to be actively pursuing presence in a variety of locations, with family, colleagues, the world, in recognition, perhaps, that if there’s no time like the present, for him, there’s damned little remaining of that.

Jamie and I Skype less frequently than either of us insist we should. These calls extend beyond a scheduled hour, usually ending only when some other commitment insists they must. We talk about nothing at all, which probably characterizes the best of all possible conversations. We have no agenda. Neither of us care to impress the other. We merely experience our presence together.

I usually think after these calls end that I should have recorded them for posterity, except no present moment has a posterity. Lose that context and the warm wisdom we share would probably seem about as compelling as gossiping teenagers giggling over boyfriends. The context seems essential, and the context lives only in that hair-thin line of presence; the present moment.

When we last spoke, I appreciated Jamie for his presence. I know he’s spent much of his life seeking authenticity and learning to inhabit the present. Consequently, he seems stunningly present, and his mere presence seems to drag me back from whatever dreaded future abyss I’m obsessing over or forward from whichever regretted past has me cornered. A conversation with a dying man might be the best treatment for depression, discouragement, or discombobulation. This works for me every time.

I will not speculate why this works, but accept that it most certainly does work for me. A lop-sided hour or two spent in the presence of a man whose future has been compacted into the present seems to properly and productively reframe my troubles into wannabe trivialities.

Jamie told me that he’s been noticing just how much people seem to live in the future. To aspire, to want seems almost the purpose of modern life, a primary motivating force. This day seems brighter with the promise of even better days ahead. He said he sometimes feels like the kid who overhears his friends talking about a birthday party he has not been invited to, and he feels the deep longing anyone would feel when denied the opportunity to play. His playground is today, though, as each of ours is. I’m not always so able to acknowledge where this life I experience exists, though.

The dying man knows just where he lives. He lives here, now, on the pointy end of his own history, like we all do. Our apparent longevity discourages acceptance of the inescapable fact that there is no tomorrow, no yesterday, that there’s hardly even a today, but there is, always, eternally, a right now. I hope to face my demise with the aplomb Kurt Vonnegut mustered when he concluded that he should face eternity the way he’d always faced it before he was born. How’s that? He couldn’t remember.

I don’t remember, either. My memory’s failing, thank Heavens. The Muse insists that my stories lean more toward a kind of fact-based fiction. I sometimes get the location right. The details, I seem to fill in as the plot or the purpose demands. My predictions seem to be failing, too. I’m finally acknowledging that I have no clue what tomorrow might do. And don’t really aspire to know.

This leaves me with the present, up this morning at four, running from the past-and-future-obsessed news broadcast, building a warming fire, drinking my decaf in my writing chair; here, now, present. My more depressive self appreciates this little vacation from his dedicated delusioning, acknowledging the deep influence my friend Jamie has on my recognizing just where I live; perhaps where we all live.

We disconnected the latest call when some business called. Jamie was cleaning up some past mess with the IRS for an organization he loves deeply. Building more legacy for someone else’s future, I guess, spending his presence wisely by sharing it widely. Thanks, man.

PS: This blogpost has a sound track. Listen in while reading it again. Here’s the link:
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©2014 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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