Fishful Thinking

Deeper Understanding of Our Facts

Knowing something and knowing something can be two different things. Most of the time, we know a thing intellectually, like global warming is changing the face of our planet, or that our partner loves us. We accept those things as facts, but it isn’t until we have a sort of emotional awakening to go with that knowledge, that we fully comprehend it.

We see a picture of how a glacier is now 50 percent of what it was a decade ago, or we have a narrow escape and see our partner completely distraught because of it, and we suddenly have a more complete picture of the fact we merely accepted before.

I had one of those recently: I’m approaching elderly.

It’s not as though I wasn’t aware; of course I was. I can count the candles on my cake. I make jokes to the supermarket checkers about being able to remember when an avocado cost a lot less than a buck.

Lately, I’ve been annoyed by a spate of articles blaming everything that’s wrong with modern life on Baby Boomers (and no – realizing we did the exact same thing to our own parents and grandparents and they to theirs doesn’t make it any more palatable). I knew intellectually that I’m considered old by a good sized segment of the population. It’s irritating to have people discount you because you’ve lived longer than them, but it happens. Still, both the number of cake candles and casual ageism were just facts that I accepted as evidence that I’m older. Not the same as knowing it.

Lots of people mark their aging firsts – first grey hair, first noticeable web of wrinkles, first chronic ache or pain. But age can still sneak up on you; you might not really notice even when your social chatter has gone from who’s doing whom, then right past investments and baby sitters, to what the doctor said the last time you had an office visit. Because you never actually feel old. No one does until they can’t help it any more.

And eventually you can’t help it because some thing, a fact, conjoins with experience, causes an emotion, and all of a sudden you realize.

I’ve got some medical issues – most of them related to genetic predisposition (thanks, family), but nothing that can’t be regulated by some medication and a little more attention to self-care. Except for the tendinitis from decades of keyboarding lots and lots of words, I haven’t noticed much difference in my physical life. Then last month, my doctor took me off one medication and moved me to another because she was worried that the previous meds were interfering with my kidney function. Just an adjustment. A minor adjustment. And yet…

All of a sudden, I saw myself at the beginning of the end of the road. I didn’t have a panic attack about it, but I admit to being unsettled. This type of thing is the point where you start looking for mitigation – people in my family tend to live long lives without much frailty and I clutched that observation to me as though it was a life ring. But even as I tried to minimize the effects aging has had on me so far, I truly understood for the first time that, from now on, my life may become more and more circumscribed by a process over which I have limited control.

Someone once said that from the moment we are born, we move towards death. I could have as many as four decades left or as little as one day or even one hour. No one knows when their existence will end, and I’m fine with that.

What gets me is how I went from knowing this thing to knowing this thing.

I attended a block printing workshop a month or so ago and had prepared by drawing what I wanted to print, only to discover my drawing was slightly too large for the block provided. It would have taken a while and materials I didn’t have to reduce the size, so I opted to improvise by drawing something new: A wide-eyed cat with little fish raining down around her.

When I started writing this post, that block print came to mind. We all indulge in fishful thinking – it’s our capacity to imagine, to daydream and turn those dreams into something concrete and touchable that makes for some of our most worthwhile creations. But we’re also the kind of creatures to let facts lay shallow in our minds – to understand them on a thin level, not touching us in any other way until something happens that changes that, which is usually an experience.

So we might say we understand that saying “one day at a time”, but it takes on a deeper, richer meaning when you have to struggle hard to maintain your equilibrium because of addiction or illness, whether yours or someone else’s.

Accepting the facts of your life is something many religions and philosophies strive to teach, but they also teach that we should work for a deeper understanding of ourselves and our world. Deeper understanding can be hard to achieve, despite putting in a lot of work. So it almost seems a wonder – those moments when a fact comes together with experience and emotion to create that deeper understanding. Like an unexpected and unusual rain.

Because we only have the one (physical) life on this planet, living it is the most important thing. But living it with the most understanding of what it truly is – connecting what we know to what we have experienced and what it makes us feel can challenge us and result in a richer understanding and appreciation of our lives, no matter how long they may be.

Smoke on the Water

pic of mist on water

The song, or rather just the first line of the chorus, had been going through his head all day. Repeating and repeating. He wondered if this was some new torture the liver cancer had dreamed up for him or if it was just his own brain tiredly trying to tell him something.

He settled himself on the toilet, using the newly installed grab bars for support. Changing his adult diaper while sitting down was easier than trying to do it while standing up and he had already been caught twice by another flow while in the middle of a change. Sitting on the toilet was safer.

This part of the end game was humiliating. But at least he was no longer pissing his pants. Or worse.

Smoke on the water…

He had never given much thought to the way he would leave this life, but if he had, he would not have guessed this. He had survived a lot of crazy, dangerous shit, but here he was. Finished changing himself, he  tossed the used diaper into the lined pail now kept in the bathroom and steadied himself to get to the sink and wash his hands.

He took his time getting out of the narrow bathroom and used the walls, counters, and furniture to get into the kitchen and poured himself a beer. His wife hated that he still drank, but an occasional beer at this stage couldn’t make that much of a difference. Okay, if he was honest, it was more like three or four a day, but he had no intention of giving it up. Everybody was entitled to go to Hell in their own way. Or if they weren’t, they ought to be.

Smoke on the water…

The dog was at the screen door with a tennis ball in his mouth, so he went outside to sit on the porch steps and throw it a few times until the dog stopped bringing it back. Beautiful fall day. The breeze smelled of sycamore trees and the nearby creek. There was a buzzing sound in the background and he looked up to see the wasps had started a new nest. Damn them. He’d have to get the wasp spray. But not now.

Crazy thing that you’re on your way out and still you have to deal with crap like dogs who want to play catch and wasps building nests in your porch. Shouldn’t everything just go on hold until you were gone?

Smoke on the water…

Sometimes he wondered if his wife would be able to manage this too-big property by herself. He just hoped she wouldn’t leave him before he died. He’d sure as hell given her plenty of reason in the last few years. She would be better off without him, and he had told her so, but he was too selfish to let her go.

He listened to the birds a bit and looked at the pear tree, which was swollen with fruit that needed picking before the squirrels got them.

He didn’t want to die now. But he wasn’t sure he wanted to live, either. Mostly, he kind of wanted things to go on pretty much as they were, though he would be glad not to have to wear diapers.

He grabbed the porch railings and levered himself up from the steps to go inside. Little House on the Prairie reruns were on soon and he didn’t like to miss them.

Smoke on the water…