Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Death takes no holidays

Five years ago I left Ohio to move to Dallas -- not my favorite place in the world -- and closed the door on a part of my past that should have been closed a long time ago. That move brought me closer to where I wanted to be -- Colorado. Things here have not always been pleasant or happy, but it's not because I'm here. Trouble happens everywhere. I have had some ups and downs and sometimes it seems like the downs outnumber the ups, but, in the end, life is what you make it.

I received an email from someone out of my past who said I didn't care that he had quadruple bypass surgery and nearly died. How could I care when I didn't know? He wrote to me in May by way of and I wrote back to him in July. He just responded yesterday and this morning I received another email detailing the background of his brush with death. He wrote that being faced with the possibility of his imminent death changed his perspective. I don't see any change, other than his need to contact me and upbraid me about not caring whether he lived or died, but I'm sure he feels he has changed. So far, it's only words, the kind of words you expect from someone who has seen and faced their own mortality, but merely words all the same. He did quit smoking and he did contact me (with his usual touch of sarcasm and asperity), so I guess there are a few changes, but nothing really significant.

The problem with a change of perspective, is that it doesn't always translate into action. Some people continue to do all the same things, hurt all the same people (sometimes adding others to their list), and generally talk a good game, but little in the way of substantial active change shows, except in the mind. Just because you see an obstacle doesn't mean you will avoid hitting it. People get too mired down in their comfort zones to allow any changes, however small, to last, continuing to repeat old patterns as though caught in a video loop: same crap, different day.

We say change is constant, but what we often do not realize is that, while the world changes constantly, people seldom change appreciably or are able to sustain the change. Hair color changes. Clothes and styles change. Age changes. The body changes, mostly at the cellular level. People's attitudes and actions seldom change past a certain age. The rut is comfortable and safe, a place where things rarely or conspicuously alter -- for very long -- and we get lost in the details. We forget what we owe to ourselves as we gorge ourselves on the needs and view of others. Selfishness becomes a bad word and anything we do simply because we want to do it gets lost in an orgy of self sacrifice because we don't deserve or cannot afford to think of ourselves at the cost of others or the budget or the common good. I have news for you all. The act of breathing and living and continuing to life is selfish. Survival is selfish.

In the truest sense of the words, self sacrifice means sacrificing the self, climbing up the steps to the altar and plunging the dagger into your own heart to make room for someone -- for everyone -- else. You quit taking up space so someone else can have your space. There's nothing noble about self sacrifice. Don't believe me? Look at life at the microscopic level. Look at bacteria, parasites, viruses, and germs. They feed off the host or each other in order to continue their own existence. Charity isn't an option. Sacrifice isn't an option -- unless it's the cell next to you. Life is selfish and exists for itself and no other.

If you think this means I advocate plundering the environment or natural resources, forget it. I don't. It also doesn't mean feeding off those around you: their energy, their time, their resources, their money or their emotions. What it means is that we owe it to ourselves to take a good hard look at what we have and decide whether or not it's worth having and to forget all the artificial obligations we impose on our lives and ourselves and choose what we really want -- and what we really don't want.

Feel like a jerk when you spend a little time or money on yourself, especially when those around you are busily using up all your resources, financial and material? Don't. Be selfish. Spend a little something on you. Take time for you. Stop worrying about what everyone else thinks or needs. Get out of the rut. Get away from parasites and sycophants and breathe a little -- or a lot of -- untainted air. Get rid of what doesn't work in your life and get what will work. Stop complaining. Stop fighting. Stop bickering and arguing and discussing and compromising. Do something for yourself. Life is too short and tomorrow isn't guaranteed. Chances are your friends won't wait for you. The man or woman you love isn't going to come or isn't going to keep waiting while you figure things out. The book you've always meant to write isn't going to write itself. The dream you've held in the most secret part of your heart isn't going to happen unless you make it happen.

The guy from my past may be finally realizing what he almost had and how badly he blew it. He had a close look at the Grim Reaper and didn't like what he saw and what he had left undone. I hope he uses that knowledge to make better choices in the future and stop allowing his family to make his choices for him. I hope he learns to be selfish and stops worrying what other people will think. Most of all, I hope all the people I know (and those I don't know) finally understand that life is meant to be lived and that being selfish isn't a bad thing, especially when it means doing something good for yourself. Spend a little money and take that trip, write that book, live that dream, and take a chance on whatever you're afraid to risk that takes you out of your comfortable rutted comfort zone. There are no guarantees -- except these: life moves on without you and death is closer than you think.

That is all. Disperse.

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