The Mysteries of Life and Death

Some title, huh?  I would have liked to be more creative about it, but I’ve been put off-balance, spun round and sat down by the magnitude of mysteries lately.  It’s not as hard to accept the inevitability of death when the person dying is old, but it can still pop up in unanticipated ways.  I must say goodbye to two different men I sang with for years in church choirs.  One is 80, and last year he had a hip replacement that gave him greater mobility and a significant reduction in pain.  Things were really looking up for him, just in time to discover he has terminal cancer.

My other friend was still in his fifties.  He was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer, and he died within weeks, before those outside his family had even heard he was ill.  Besides being a gifted singer, he was a talented chef.  Last summer he was in our kitchen, demonstrating how to make reduction sauces.

I was inspired by reflecting on the life of one of my little town’s most vibrant spirits.  Frank D’Amore’s father died when he was a child, and his mother was an abusive alcoholic.  He was a homeless teen in Seattle.  But he was born so full of life force that he always believed he could transform difficult circumstances through the energy of his will.  He referred to it as his magic, the ability to make things he imagined become real.

Frank learned to bake through welfare programs, and co-founded two bakeries and a café that still exist here.  He also founded our local Marine Science Center, was an extreme sports enthusiast, and a carpenter who helped restore Victorian homes during our rebirth in the 1970s.  He believed in taking care of people who had less, as others had helped him.  The only thing he couldn’t transform with his magic was the Type I diabetes that overtook him at age 60.

Producer-Director Tony Scott committed suicide by jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge yesterday.  Scott had a number of film and TV projects in process.  His films were big, loud and hyper-kinetic, and he still had the stamina to direct “Unstoppable”, about a runaway train, at age 66.  What would cause a man in that situation to end his life in such a dramatic fashion, like it was a scene from one of his own movies?  There must have been some kind of sad mystery going on there.

Some of the lives around me that continue are just as mysterious.  Mary’s aunt is 101 now.  She’s been in dementia care for years.  She’s lost the ability to feed herself, has been hallucinating, and is incontinent.  She often slips from her bed to the floor when trying to reach a chair.  She asks the same questions repeatedly, and is unable to operate the TV or phone without assistance.  But the rest of her body, aside from her brain, just keeps on trucking.  This could go on for a couple more years.  I don’t understand the purpose of dying in that kind of slow motion, since she herself has lost the ability to reflect upon it.  I would never want that gradual dissolve to oblivion for myself, though I wouldn’t consider jumping off a bridge either.

My mother has a new boyfriend.  She and I share a similar attraction to unusual people.  He’s a retired policeman who was in a serious auto accident.  The top of his head was shaved off and his brain was exposed.  He was in a coma for two years.  Nobody expected him to continue living, let alone wake up and regain most of his former faculties.  He apparently has an occasional lack of editorial restraint, but otherwise he drives, speaks normally and seems like quite a nice guy.  Doctors are studying his recovery using the latest neuroimaging techniques like PET, MEG and NIRS.  How much injury brains can endure and recover from is a big mystery.

Mary still needs a small amount of painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs each day to function properly.  Our life is less stressful and slower than it was in El Lay, and that has helped reduce her need for medicine.  Raising the puppy is physically and spiritually good for us both.  My old kitty cat, Dixie, is too arthritic to groom her hindquarters now, but her mood is as upbeat as it has been since the day I rescued her from a parking lot at three months of age.  Every morning she meows to be fed, and she still wants to cuddle on the couch next to my butt, chattering away in imitation of human speech.  What is it she’s been talking about for the past 15 years?

I’m fine.  Rather incredibly well in fact.  I’ve been dropping a few pounds by doing more exercise and drinking more water.  I need new reading glasses, but nothing hurts and everything physical works.  There are three retired psychologists on my block in case I need help with my inner demons, and I’m not afraid of therapy.  No slave to fashion, I live in pajamas (medical scrubs) and read, write and walk around my beautiful little town until I get a phone call to go take bone pictures.  There’s so much life.  On moonless nights, the plankton glow in the bay.  The trees are everywhere.  The deer are everywhere.  If things continue this way I might still be around to retire and write fiction.  A lot of stories have formed in my mind from all this observation.  How it will turn out is still a mystery.


Filed under Metaphysics

45 responses to “The Mysteries of Life and Death

  1. LizEccentric7

    Sounds like the exercise and observations of nature are bringing about many ideas for writing. Glad you are feeling well. Animals always help me to feel happier too. They listen, without judging. My dog most likely thinks I am crazy…I love cats too. Thank you for sharing. I was wondering how things were going in Mikeyville.

  2. I bet your dog does not think you are crazy. If it could be asked, the dog would say, “She’s mine.” And things are going as they usually are here, but because I’m taking the time, I see and understand more of it than I used to. Thanks for asking, Liz 🙂

  3. LizEccentric7

    Well, things in my world are unusual as normal. My dog “Bella” only person who likes me for me. Why can’t my life ever be easy. Guess, on to new adventures for myself and my dog. 🙂

  4. I’m glad you’re fine, Mikey. I was a bit worried when I saw the name of this post! 🙂
    Sobering and down to earth. Great post 🙂

  5. Nice snapshot of “normal” life (whatever that means) with all of its mystery and wonder. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to all of it; yet I have to believe that there is some purpose, some meaning, some logic, some magic even, behind all of it that is not be obvious at this level. It is as it is supposed to be.

    I applaud you for seeing the beauty and the wonder all around you. This and all of the other stuff is just life…nothing more…nothing less.

    • I do prefer having a sense of wonder as my new “normal”. I’ve had plenty of crazy years, and I’m over it. I don’t even need to know the logic behind the magic to enjoy it. I always love having you here, Debbie.

  6. Hi Michael and Mary- Today I had to tell the owner of a little dog that I tried to rescue on Saturday, that despite an hour and a half of trying to catch her dog, I came around the corner of the street only to find him dead on the side of the road – and I had been with him just 5 minutes before. Never heard the squealing of brakes, a thud or anything. I saw the flyer today and called her. So strange to be so alive one minute and just a stiff the next. I share the same amazement, wonder, and grief as our ancient ancestors did when encountering death…

    • Oh, that is a remarkable sad story, Susie. That you were so close to suceeding must have hurt a lot. Still, his owner was probably relieved to know what had happened to him for sure. It is strange to be on one side of life and flick over to the other so easily. That is the fate of so many animals not under our protection.

  7. Wow. This was a powerful post, Mikey. I think about this stuff a lot, too and especially yesterday after hearing about Tony Scott. It’s the “mystery” that surrounds certain deaths that are perplexing and force you to look within, consider the blessings you do have and let yourself dwell in that higher vibration. I loved hearing about your mother’s boyfriend. And I love the way you are able to use your sensitivity to share your vulnerability and your intelligence to make things coherent and literary.

    • I am so pleased to be complimented upon vulnerability. I can’t thank you enough, Myra. Having authentic access to my immediate emotions is one of my biggest challenges. Sometimes it takes the life and death stuff just to get me there. Telling the story simply is easy by comparison.

  8. Invisible Mikey, you’re still at the top of the list of bloggers I’d like to share a beer with.

  9. I wish I could spend a day with you and Mary. I’d love to sit and chat to some of the old folk you take care of. I’d also love to meet your mother’s boyfriend. Sending you love from across the ocean.

    • Oh that’s fascinating…I wrote this in my head while looking into deep woods. Each of the older folks I wrote about was in another town, being looked after by others, as are you. The extent of my caring was to try and understand what goes on, what their lives represented for me.

      On the other hand I do assist in providing care for about a dozen people a week at the clinic who are in various stages of dying from chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, emphysema and COPD. Another dozen seniors get treatment because older people fall more, and when they do, more fractures occur. However, that routine is so ordinary for me that I rarely write about it. I would have to disguise their stories because of patient confidentiality laws.

      In my head I do spend time with you, Tracy. I love you too, and I’m grateful for all your encouragement. We certainly want to visit. It’s high on the post-retirement agenda. That’s less than four years away. Keep surviving and evolving, and I’ll do the same. I have this beautiful dream of going “visible” when I retire, and ending the blog with a Mikey Farewell Tour, traveling to some of the homes of various dear friends I’ve made through this writing space.

  10. This post touched a few nerves…
    …as you know last year one of my best and longest friends Hubby lost his battle to cancer at 49 after they thought he beat it once elsewhere in his body. My friend is now the solo-mother of 5,11,13,15,year old girls, and had already gone though the heartache of losing a baby a few days old (who would have been 7 1/2 had he lived).

    We know several people whose sole ambition in life seems to be to moan about everything, every day, as much as possible, and whose lives are being wasted in a pit of negativity,
    ….In contrast, a colleague who is looking forward to retirement in 15 months and has plans to travel with his wife just learned she has a virulent cancer… They’ve started chemo, and it’s tough going.

    Prognosis is more negative than positive so I’m praying for a miracle. They WANT each and every day and it’s now so precious… and so hard.

    I’m trying to improve my life too… Instead of moaning that a year and a half on crutches is lousy and that I’m gaining weight I’m unhappy with, I’ve decided that if I can’t move more then I need to eat less…

    Not easy, but I’m slowly getting there in spite of some difficult stress situations in the background (OTOH luckily the stress source isn’t at home).

    Life IS what YOU make it, at least to some extent and you have to sieze each and every day with a determination to be happy and spread some happiness. It’s often a really hard task to complete on a real practical level as care, worries and stresses come from different quarters, but as someone wise said one time, “It’s not what hits us that hurts us, it’s how we deal with it” .. or words to that effect.

    Only God Knows what Tony Scott’s inner demons were, and only God can stand in judgement of his decision to take his own life. All we can do is hope that Tony achieved the peace he was looking for. R.I.P to everyone who thought that this is their only option.

    I can only wish that we can all grow old, fit both mentally and physically… In the meantime it’s a reminder for us all to cherish our days and not waste them.

    I know that Himself is having a tough day today. People he was relying on to do stuff have let him down, therefore a deadline can’t be met for a second time, the kids are having a particularly rebellious day, it’s already been a week where there’s too much to do in too little time, and today too many people are stepping in to ask favours on top of it all.

    I’ll have to see what I can do to make it easier when i get home from work. Gotta get some sunshine out of this day for him one way or another 🙂

    • (Forgive me. I cleaned up your typos for the sake of clarity because the thought you put into the comment was so important I didn’t want it misunderstood. On the other hand, I rather like the idea of “playing” for miracles.)

      You’re right on all counts of course. Though I accept that depression can lead to suicide, it still upsets me that Mr. Scott’s children or wife might be in pain wondering what they could have done to save him or prevent the action – even though the answer is “nothing”. You can offer love and support. You can’t control to what extent another person will accept, believe or understand it.

      I hope you have a better day tomorrow. Drink more water! You’ll have to hang out nearer to the bathroom, but it helps liquidate the fat and wash it out. If visual reinforcement works for you, buy a jar of Keto-sticks (or whatever they are called there) at the druggists. You pee on them, and if they turn any color from pink to purple, you know your body is in a state of ketosis – fat burning.

  11. An excellent friend left a box of home made marshmallow and chocolate sweet treats at our place today so I drank TWO big glasses of water, ate a 400 calorie salad/tuna dinner and then had a TINY teaspoon of dessert “just for the taste”… yep, just a teaspoon and not even heaped up, so I didn’t feel like I “went without’ or that I had failed in keeping to my calorie goal today.

    Whenever you see typo’s feel free to fix them, I have mild dyslexia and if the spell-checker doesn’t find it then I simply don’t see it no matter how many times I re-read it. At certain times of the day the pain relief is wearing thin and my concentration also is a bit lax. (or a lot, if I re-read some stuff the next day at a better moment LOL)

    It’s a fie line between “living Life to the max NOW” and “investing for a long and happy retirement” (and hoping that you will get to see said retirement) but at the very least we need to aim at smiling as much as possible every day and telling our loved ones how much we appreciate and love them.
    It’s not always easy, but it’s a goal worth having at go at.

  12. A blogger whose blog focuses on the lighter side of life surprised her readers recently with a post that said her son had just died in an accident and she would be back, well, she didn’t know when. Or if.

    Death is never very far away. My word of the year a few years ago was “Prepare.” I took it to mean that I should make peace with death so that I could live fully in the present. No need to die in advance, so to speak.

    The Tao Te Ching teaches that someone who knows how to live can walk without fear because death has no place to enter. I don’t think that is a prescription for immorality. I think it is a prescription for living in joy and not in fear.

    Provocative post and comments, my friend.

    • I assume you meant immortality, but I’ll let it stand as is because it pleases my sense of dark humor. I agree either way 🙂

      • Ha! That is what I meant. I love it when a typo changes the meaning in an unintended but humorous way! In a similar vein, I texted my daughter a while back, intending to ask “When are you going to be home?” I wasn’t checking the automatic word choice, though, and what I actually texted was “When are you going to be good?” Still waiting for an answer on that one!

  13. IM, this post struck a few nerves for me and sparked a few synapses (I don’t have many left.) I pondered and pondered about how to respond and the best I could come up with was the epitaph of William Butler Yeats:

    Cast a cold eye
    On life, on death.
    Horeseman, pass by!

  14. Very thought provoking, Mikey. I lost a very close friend… It’ll have been a month on Tuesday. He was 21. It was a car accident, but contrary to what statistics would indicate, there was no alcohol involved. He simply fell asleep behind the wheel whilst driving on a windy road through the woods. He wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. He never wore his seatbelt. I always told him to put his effing seatbelt on.
    Since learning of his passing, I’ve found myself with similar, if not more morbid, thoughts on the mysteries of life and death. The day it happened I woke up much earlier than I usually choose to. Less than a minute later was when I received a text message from a mutual friend regarding his death. I still don’t know what to make of that, didn’t even really think about it until a few weeks after, but I know it wasn’t a coincidence.
    I remember you commented on my post, “DMT Experience,” shortly after I wrote it. I’d encourage you to re-read it, as I’ve added some things and took out others. But either way, you’ll remember I was convinced that the “trip” induced by DMT is the experience of dying. The friend who died was one of the three I did this drug with. I really don’t know what to make of that, or even if there is something to be made from it.
    I’ve been meaning to write something about him, but you know how writing goes. Something about this post – the tone perhaps – gives me inspiration or guidance to do that. So I just wanted to say thanks. 🙂

    • You’re welcome, James. Having thought about your DMT post for some time, I agree with you. I do think it’s possible to chemically create a mental “death experience”. I also think it is possible to do it without chemicals, such as by fasting and meditation. Religious hermits write about this as the “dark night of the soul”, the necessity of experiencing extreme physical and mental distress, in order to emerge enlightened and purified. Writing about your friend is a good way to honor the better times you spent with him. There are times to wear a seatbelt and times not to. I try not to wear one in face-to-face conversations, but sometimes kids read my blog. I’m sure you get what I mean.

  15. Pingback: Cast a Cold Eye | Curmudgeon at Large

  16. Good morning Mikey, as I have already commented on the above post, I invite you to a dual of sorts. Since, you and I love history and are geeks of history and war, I invite you to this writing challenge for this week:
    Hard challenge indeed, although I know you can win, looking forward to reading your post..
    Good luck,,
    The Lizster

    • Thanks for the invitation, Liz, but seriously, I’m the person least driven to compete that I know. I’m waay too lazy to write on demand. Hope your contest works out well, though

      • Oh, I know sent out a ton of comments last night after way too much wine….sorry. 🙂

        • It’s okay. I can’t write worth a damn on alcohol, and I can’t consume enough to make me think it’s good 😉

          • Well, last night I visited so many sites and commented, ummm my traffic and comments were so high today, could not keep up, didn’t understand why until started looking at blogs tonight, then thought Woa, said what you thought their Liz, and wrote many blog posts last night that were actually good. How did that happen? Evidentally write better in that state of mind, the comments couldn’t hardly keep up….Maybe should do that more often.

  17. I tried on three occasions to post my reply to this, and each time got interrupted by the chaos of my day. Dangit. I’ll just get to the heart of the matter quickly…

    Powerful words, engaging approach, and as usual you held my attention captive to the end. I hate that feeling of disappointment when we reach the conclusion of words that move us. It doesn’t happen enough, and when it does it’s such a meaningful moment… You write with fearless tenacity. It seems (the tenacity, that is) to walk a tightrope in your soul. Or your mind. Whatever. Balancing itself between the borders of what you really think you feel, and what you really think your readers expect you to feel, inadvertently crossing the canyons of your own emotions with a religious commitment to what lies between: how you really feel.

    I think the power of death exists solely within life, as the power of life exists solely within death.

    • I agree with you, BeeDeeCee, about that yin-yang balance of power between life and death. I get interrupted by daily life too, which is why my “grand plans” and longer stories are waiting for my retirement in 2016.

      My main tenacity as a writer is in re-writing. Most of these pieces start out two or three times as long, then I get out the chainsaw. At first I kind of barf it all out, since I have some access issues with my emotions. After that it’s all about refining, reducing and dropping extras. If I can say it in 600, why use 1000? Why waste another’s time? Readers have busy lives, as do writers. Get to the point. That’s my goal. I’m happy it works for you!

      • I’ll take the underlying depth of your suggestion, and how it has obviously tethered you to this stream of captive minds, and will use it to evolve my own word-puzzled catalogue of ideas. Thanks for sharing.

        Access issues. Hm..

        This is at the heart of my silly simile earlier. When I compared your writing style to a tightrope walk. From my point of view, I find a certain untruth in the self-proclaimed access issues… Maybe I’m missing it. But from where I sit, your words flow freely from the center of a boldly beating heart, whose pulse is perfectly audible to the body in which it dwells, and yet the decision to TRULY LISTEN to the beating is what causes hesitation, revision, and a commitment to brevity. To me, I find your access to your own feelings striking; eery; uncanny. It seems your familiarity with embracing them still puts your ‘authoring’ swagger in check. As if to say, “Are you sure you’re cool with going there?” …Your macho-man ego with the world at his fingertips is now pausing to listen to the true warrior within.

        Though I often cannot discern a tangerine from an orange without actually tasting its flavor first, for myself.

        • I’ll accept the compliments, but it’s absolutely true. I’ve got decades of short-circuits to repair, and I’ve undertaken many means to fix them. I’m better than I used to be, and writing helps. I am grateful you find what I write to be emotionally satisfying to read.

  18. Another fantastic post. It made me sad, it made me smile and it made me thankful. Thank you Mikey.

  19. Hi, Mikey

    I’ve been catching up on a lot of your posts; this and the series on controversial films are so enjoyable, interesting and thought-provoking to read. (The discussion thread here is wonderful, too.) Re. this post, I heard someone say on the radio the other day (not sure if they were quoting someone else) something along the lines of (I paraphrase), ‘The problem is not that there aren’t enough wonders in the world; the problem is that we don’t wonder enough’.

    I really hope two things: that you don’t put off writing fiction until you retire; and that you put your film writing together as a collection, perhaps as an ebook. I’d buy it.

    • I’m so glad you stopped in, Deborah, and that you are enjoying catching up. The time committments I’ve made toward work and puppy training make writing longer work untenable for now. However, I’m doing some outlines, and I intend to complete them once I retire in 2016. I mean to lengthen the film essays with additional material and organize them thematically. These are the “magazine article” versions. I’ve been very lucky to have an education in film criticism courtesy of some remarkable teachers. David Bordwell, author of many core college texts, was my first classroom instructor. I’ve had fruitful discussions with Danny Peary, and a number of lesser-known, top drawer critics. I’m also fond of the works of past writers like Parker Tyler, James Agee, Dziga Vertov, Eisenstein, Truffaut and Bunuel. That’s the level of writing I’m aiming for.

      I would have been commenting on your WP site, but you moved your comments to Facebook, and I would have to join to comment, and I don’t want them to have my name on file. That’s why I’ve only left you “likes”.

  20. It’s really interesting to hear about the influences on your film writing. I wish I didn’t have to wait until 2016 for the longer and themed collection…

    Don’t worry about the commenting thing. I forgot how to use WP and kept closing comments and likes when I meant to keep them open. And I deactivated the WW FB account some time ago, so that wouldn’t have worked either even if you had wanted to go there!

    (Re. films, I watched There Will Be Blood last night: amazing acting from Dano and Day-Lewis.)

  21. Very nice, calm writing. I loved the glowing plankton. And yes, the unanswered mystery.

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