“I won’t optimize the length of my life.”

Beltane                                                                                Rushing Waters Moon

Black Mountain

Black Mountain

The Rushing Waters Moon is down to a thin crescent. 2% of the lunar surface illuminated. Maxwell, Cub, Blue, Shadow, Brook, and Bear Creek are still pulsing, but they will begin to slow as we move deeper into Beltane. Alan Watt’s little book, The Water Course Way, comes to mind when I write about these patient devourers of mountains. Soft wins over hard.

Cool today. 29 when I got up. Snow all gone for now. The prediction is for a wetter and cooler May, something both of these former Minnesotans can enjoy. Good sleeping. Too, coming after a wet winter, this sort of May will further reduce fire dangers. Told Kate yesterday it could be cool and wet right up to the monsoons, late August. A summer without fire worries would be nice.

Got an e-mail yesterday from Dave, of Deb and Dave, who own On the Move Fitness and have been my personal trainers for two years. He sent it to all those who use their small fitness center. Dave has brain cancer, up until this last week in remission. Not now. Resonates for me. I wrote him back. “Cancer’s a bitch.” Both he and Deb responded. Deb said, “I agree, cancer’s a bitch.”

cocoMichelle is a mussar friend. Her husband has prostate cancer, too. Already metastasized. Leslie, also a mussar friend, has had her breast cancer reemerge twice. I mention these because it underlines that cancer is probably in your circles as well. Yes, treatments have improved life expectancy and some prevention efforts have helped, but cancer itself, in its multiple manifestations, continues to be an agent of Azrael, the angel of death.

In itself, as I’ve written before, I consider whatever ultimately kills me as a friend. Life is not forever. We cherish our mothers who bring us into this life. (Well, we cherish some mothers.) Why not cherish what completes our cycle? No, I’m not rooting for prostate cancer to be that friend. And, yes, I’ll wait as long as I can to meet my friend, yes.

In “Free Solo”, the documentary about his free climb of El Capitan, Alex Honnold says to his girlfriend, Sanni McCandless, “No, I’m not going to optimize the length of my life.” The comment hit me a couple of ways. First, it’s so contra-normative for this health obsessed age in which this diet or that exercise regimen or those supplements will ensure you’re not only healthy, but will live long. (and, maybe prosper) No keto diet or paleo diet or spinning class or hot yoga or ginseng will extend your life beyond a human’s natural limits. And the death angst that causes folks to fantasize that maybe this intervention will do just that is fantasy. Denial. Fear. I like Honnold’s up front recognition of death as a part of life.

free soloSecond, he’s not giving up his central purpose, to push climbing as far as he can, because it might kill him. Neither should we put any part of our life on hold because we’re going to die. Yes, cancer puts that right up in your face, like climbing free solo, but it does not control your response. If you’re brave enough to say with Alex, “No, I’m not going to optimize the length of my life,” then you’ve found a platform firm enough to withstand whatever existential threat comes along.

This is what Yamantaka wants to teach us. Our death is sure. Our fear is unnecessary and interferes with our ability to live. Life is precious, rare, and finite. It is a gift bestowed upon us without condition, ours to use, to enjoy, to contemplate, to share, to embrace. Don’t let anything get in your way.