“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.

A Difference Maker for My Heart

Spring                                                                              Rushing Waters Moon

20190420_173752Back to mussar yesterday. First time in quite a while. It was a gift, as was the minyan for Debra Copes’ mother’s memorial the night before.

Odd though, in both instances. I find myself an insider and an outsider. There is no question that Beth Evergreen accepts both Kate and me. I’m of the community, not a Gentile pagan interloper. Yet when the prayers are said and the knee bending and bowing begins, I feel like an outsider. I don’t know the words, nor do I fully understand why we’re bending and bowing. I try to follow the person next to me, but I feel awkward and a bit inauthentic. Also, I don’t wear the kippah during services. Again, it doesn’t seem authentic for me since I’m not of the tribe.

When Alan Rubin and I went to lunch on Wednesday, for example, I ordered a reuben, a pannini. When Alan ordered a salad, I said, “Oh, on your diet, eh?” “Well, yes, but also we can’t eat bread during Passover.” Oh? Oops. Passover, it turns out, is 8 days and eating leavened anything during this time is out. Yet they trust me enough to teach in the religious school.

high holy daysBeing away for a while makes me more aware of these moments. Yet Debra wanted me at her mother’s minyan. She did a universal worship service which consists of lighting candles for Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and a general candle for other witnesses to the divine. Rabbi Jamie said, at a meeting a couple of weeks ago, “This ex-Presbyterian understands Reconstruction better than anybody else around this table.” Around the table were key leaders of the synagogue.

Yesterday I offered what was for me a mussar interpretation of a table of virtues set out by Renee Brown, a favorite author of many in the congregation. Yes, to generosity. But, also, yes to retaining sufficient resources for yourself and your family. Yes, to freedom, but also yes to submission, to recognizing those times when serving others is more important. Yes, to accountability, but also yes to breaking the rules, to recognizing that not all instances of being held to account (even by ourselves) are equal or worthy.

20180316_191858The Jewish approach to death, too. Sitting shiva with someone after a death. Having those in mourning stand and be acknowledged during the mourner’s kaddish at every worship service. Celebrating each year the yahrzeit, the year anniversary of a loved ones death. Calling together a minyan as Debra did for honoring her mother. Those who knew it, repeated the mourner’s kaddish from memory. A vital and key part of maintaining community, acknowledging that the dead live on, not gone, just absent.

When I told Alan about my new reality with the axumin scan and oncologists, he said, “You know you’ve got the whole congregation behind you?” He meant it. Wow. Makes me feel like crying. Because I’ve always chosen an outsiders role, I’ve rarely known complete acceptance in a group; but, I feel it at CBE like I felt it in the Woollies. Profound. A difference maker for my heart.

 

 

 

Sigh

Spring                                                                     Rushing Waters Moon

By Textefuermedizin - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Cyber knife

By Textefuermedizin – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Cyber knife (looks sort of ominous, doesn’t it?)

Cancer seems to move the wheels of medicine a bit faster than other things. My axumin scan will happen on May 14th. A radioactive molecule of an amino acid, leucine, cancer cells take up axumin “avidly” according to Blue Earth Diagnostics. PET scans can observe this activity through gamma ray emissions. According to one website, each dose of axumin costs between $3,000 and $4,000. My cost will be much less, probably around $200.

On May 17th I meet with the radiation oncologists at Anova Cancer Care. Dr. Gilroy will review the axumin scan and use it to recommend a treatment plan. Given the velocity of these matters I imagine the treatment itself will happen soon after.

How this effects Kate and me is uncertain right now. She still has a diagnosis of her lung disease ahead of her, which might entail a lung biopsy, as well as the surgery to place the j-tube. These may happen concurrently. If she’s recovering from surgery and I’m receiving radiation? Not sure how that will be.

Geez. Downbeat. I know. Wish my reality were different. Oh jinn of the lamp where are you? Even so, it’s life. Kate asked me if I was thinking, why me? I said no, never. Why? Because I’m human and we’re frail creatures, our bodies a compromise between life and entropy. Entropy always, always wins.

Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power has started up its new Shin Kori 4 reactor

Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power has started up its new Shin Kori 4 reactor

The technology involved in all this fascinates me. My buddy, nuclear engineer William Schmidt, studied the underlying physics of it all, utilizing nuclear power to create electricity. Now it will find those little bastards that want to advance the entropic time schedule for my body. When my prostate was cancerous, I wanted it out. In this situation there is no thing to cut out, no organ to remove. It’s similar, I think, to a forest where small fires have been ignited by lightning. None of the small fires, in themselves, will destroy the forest, but they have the potential to kindle whole forest consuming wildfires.

I looked at myself in the mirror yesterday. The same. The seven small scars from the DaVinci robot in a jagged curve, hardly visible. Yet, somewhere inside something nasty is happening. My former internist, Charlie Peterson, said we’re all black boxes to a certain extent. Right now, hanging between my psa numbers and the axumin scan, I’m in a limbo where all I know for sure is that there is some cancer, some where in that torso.

Not depressed, but melancholy. A heaviness settles in at some points, some staring. Numb, like my whole body rests on my crazy bone.

 

Sprinting Through

Spring                                                                         Rushing Waters Moon

Slept fine. Had this soothing scene as the evening faded into night.

Learned that the Progoff workshop is on. I need it even more now. The Colorado years have been tough in health and Jon related matters. I need to pull back and look at my life, learn from it, make some decisions about directions. The cancer reemergence makes gaining this sort of perspective critical.

As with most things medical beyond primary care, an axumin scan requires prior approval by insurance. That can take as much as a week. That could put it in the Progoff week. I probably won’t schedule it for that week unless my docs feel this is super urgent. I’m going to need as much psychic balance as I can muster over the next few months. Kate’s still sick, after all. And still needs my care.

Took Kate to her year follow up for her shoulder replacement. A bit of good news. The shoulder looked good in x-ray and she’s got good range of motion. Her left shoulder has begun to show symptoms. Fixing that one is down the list of medical matters needing attention for her.

We’re planning to get back to mussar this week. I need the community at Beth Evergreen and so does Kate.

Lots of diverse things running, no, sprinting through my mind. As you might expect. Is this the beginning of the end? How bad is the reemergence? Has the cancer spread? What kind of treatment will I need? What will it do to me? How will all of this effect my ability to care for Kate? How will Joe, Jon, Ruth, and Gabe take this news? What’s my prognosis? None of these are happy thoughts. Each carries its own frisson of emotion.

So much unknown right now. It’s impossible not to wonder about the future, but I’m making no big leaps. Information gathering. Decision making. That’s now. And I have Kate to help with that. A big advantage.

Making corned beef and cabbage for dinner tonight.

Cancer Returns

Spring                                                                  Rushing Waters Moon

cancer-cell

Cancer cell

Had to go at this head on, today, while it’s fresh. When I got to my appointment with Anna Willis, Dr. Eigner’s P.A., the first person in the room was Eigner himself. Grayer and thinner, he smiled, shook my hand. When I said it was good to see him, he said, “It’s good to see you, too, but I’m not happy about the reason.” When I told him my anxiety made me move the decimal place on my PSA, his relief was obvious, “Thank god.” Anna came in about then.

They both remembered me. Anna remembered my glasses and our visits. Eigner remembered me partly because I’d sent him a couple of emails over the years thanking him, telling him about my life. It was one of the warmest visits I’ve had in a doctor’s office and that felt good.

Davinci_roboticArm_skyRidge_Low

Davinci robotic arm, Sky Ridge (where I had my surgery)

Turns out though. “When you’ve been perfect (a .1 psa which means essentially undetectable) and that changes, it’s scary.” He went on to say that it most likely does mean a recurrence, a relatively rare thing for those who choose prostatectomy, even rarer if the pathology report read, as mine did, clear margins. Clear margins means no cancer was found on the outside of the prostate. The best news.

Dr. Eigner took out a piece of paper and drew a sort of oblong on it. “This is the prostate. They can’t take sections from every part, so they take representative slices. If the cancer is between those slices, it won’t show up on the path report.” Oh, shit.

Since it is three and a half years since my surgery, and since the number for the uptick is relatively small, it means the recurrence is probably local, that is, in the area where the prostate used to be. That’s good news, much better than metastasis.

The plan is to redo my PSA in three months, doing the super sensitive one that can take the numbers 3 or 4 places rather than just two. If it’s still rising, I’ll get a referral right away to the oncologists to discuss radiation. “We’ll just go in there and kill it,” he said. “If you were older, I’d tell you not to do anything. This will take ten years to manifest anyhow, but at 72 you’ve still got a lot of life ahead of you.” That’s my opinion, too.

the Prostate Specific Antigen

the Prostate Specific Antigen

Radiation has some potential downsides, so I hope we don’t have to go that route. But, as I said to Kate, I’ve always chosen treatments that offer the best chance to remain active, and alive. I chose repair for my torn Achilles even though it means two months of no walking and crutches for a good while after. I chose knee replacement over other treatment options because I wanted to continue exercising. I chose a radical prostatectomy because that gave me the best shot at a cure. Likewise here, if radiation is the option that gives me the best chance to survive and thrive, I’ll choose it. No doubt.

All that’s the rational side, and that’s pretty damned important because these are high risk, high reward decisions. But they’re not all of it.

On the way back from Eigner’s I drove through Deer Creek Canyon. When my biopsy confirmed my prostate cancer in 2015, I drove Deer Creek Canyon, too. Going through there I felt the rock, rock so old that our human scale word ancient is quaint. This rock rose millions of years ago and it will slowly soften, the rough edges frozen and thawed, rained on, plant roots will crack them, and Deer Creek will carry the pebbles and sand to the Platte River on its way to the Gulf. Not only will I be dead long, long before then, it may be that the human race will have ended itself well before then, too. This comforts me.

Laramide Orogeny, 70 million years ago, begun. 35 million years ago, ended. Built the Rockies

Laramide Orogeny, 70 million years ago, begun. 35 million years ago, ended. Built the Rockies

William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis” came to mind. See the opening stanza below.* He goes on to make the point that the earth itself is a great tomb, holding all those who once lived. Again, this comforts me. Death has not chosen me for a special fate. No, death itself is a universal for all who live. It seems harsh and cruel, yet it is, rather, the opposite. Death ends suffering. Allows the world to carry many creatures, but not all at once.

Here there were Utes and Apaches, Comanches, too. And even they were not the first. Older humans preceded even them. And before all came the Rockies, then the trees, the lodgepole pines and the ponderosa and the bristle cone, the aspen. Mountain lions, deer, elk, rabbits, raccoons, pikas, prairie dogs, bison, moose, wolves, fox, martens, fishers, beaver. All here before humans, most will be here after we are gone. I can look at the lodgepoles in my front yard and know that their direct ancestors flourished here thousands of years ago and will do so after I’m dead.

All this brackets whatever troubles I may experience, even cancer. And cancer may be that friend that carries me off to the mighty sepulchre. Or, it might be something else. Whatever is my death-friend will not be an enemy, but the specific cause of my life ending. And that is, for all of us, in spite of our fears, a good thing.

 

Kindred Spirits by Asher Durand William Cullen Bryant and Thomas Cole

Kindred Spirits by Asher Durand William Cullen Bryant and Thomas Cole

* “To him who in the love of Nature holds

Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language; for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild
And healing sympathy, that steals away
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—
Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature’s teachings, while from all around—
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—
Comes a still voice—
                                       Yet a few days, and thee
The all-beholding sun shall see no more
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears…
The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould…
Thou shalt lie down
With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings,
The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good,
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
All in one mighty sepulchre.”

The Ides of April

Spring                                                                           Rushing Waters Moon

Whoa. Tiger Woods won the Open. After 11 years of shame, rehab, shambling along. A victory for aging. For never letting go of the dream. For living into the present and the future, not being bridled by the past. I’m glad, for all of us.

tax_dayTax day. Still puzzled by the acrimony taxes create. Taxes express our solidarity as citizens of this nation. They do the work of road building, of feeding the hungry and housing the homeless, of war fighting, of space exploration, of consumer and environmental protection. Or, at least they do under reasonable, non-tyranny leaning Presidents. I’m happy to pay them, federal and state and property. Always have been.

Do I always agree with the use to which my tax dollars are put? Of course not. I understand the nature of politics. It’s about compromise, about negotiating the differences we have. Politics define how we live together as a people, at least in the public sphere.

No taxation without representation. That was the Boston Tea Party demand of King George. Its corollary is that when you have representation the taxes are legitimate, whether you agree with their aims or not. If not, change your representation.

There’s an article in this morning’s NYT titled, “Is America Becoming an Oligarchy?” I wrote a comment, “Whaddya mean, becoming?” That is, of course, the trouble with our government and with the notion of representation. I know that. It doesn’t make no taxation without representation inapplicable, rather it defines the struggle ahead.

Further down the page was an article titled “Want to Escape Global Warming?” It features Duluth as a climate-change proof city. Which, I imagine, makes Canada look pretty good, too. With decent forest management Conifer could be such a place, as well. Duluth’s a great town, situated between the Twin Cities and northern Minnesota, sitting on the largest body of fresh water in the world save Lake Baikal in Siberia. Kate and I considered moving there when she left Metro Peds.

A menu from a 1999 visit

Menu from a 1999 visit

60 today here in Conifer. Snow later in the week. Colorado.

And, my appointment with Anna Willis. I have some anxiety though my rational side says it’ll be fine. At least I’ll get a professional opinion about my rising PSA. What’s life in the third phase without a little medical frisson every once in a while?

Friend Tom Crane and Roxann have returned to Minnesota after several days on Maui. To snow and cold. Of course. They stayed at the condo near Duke’s restaurant on Kaanapli beach while the grandkids and their parents were with them and moved to Mama’s Fish House Inn after.

Mama’s has been a favorite spot of Kate and mine’s since our first trips to Hawai’i. Celebrated several birthdays there. Mine, since Kate’s CME’s often fell in February, a great time to be someplace else other than Minnesota.

 

 

Not all who wander are lost. Tolkien

Spring                                                                        Rushing Waters Moon

Mark in Saudi Arabia

Brother Mark in the sands of Araby

Brother Mark turned 60 yesterday. A landmark birthday. Sort of the transition from younger to older. The next decade is the 70’s while the previous one was the 50’s. He’s celebrated his birthday in many spots around the world, this time in Arar, Saudi Arabia. Mark’s finishing up the term at his school right now, then will head out for some travel. He’s a wanderer, a man addicted to movement. Mary and I are the same, with Mary’s level of addiction being greater than mine and Mark’s greater than Mary’s. Which we all inherited from our parents. Dad dreamed of travel. Mom did it. She made it to Algeria, Capri, and England during WW II. She was a WAC in the Signal Corps.

Today is Dad’s birthday. He would have been a hundred and six. In regard to yesterday’s post, he had prostate cancer at the same age I did, 69. He also had a prostatectomy, in a time when they were much more difficult to perform (too much blood obscured the surgeon’s view). He never had a recurrence.

Saw Alex, Dr. Gupta’s nurse practitioner yesterday. Kate does have some sort of interstitial lung disease, the kind to be determined by a lung biopsy. The current plan is to have the biopsy done at the same time as her j-tube placement. Alex is working on that right now. This is a big, a giant step forward. Where we’ve been trying to get since January. Alex said she thought Kate was fit for surgery.

Joe and SeoAhs apartment in Songtan, Korea

Joe and SeoAh’s apartment in Songtan, Korea

The wisdom of Ed Smith’s insistence on the tpn has become evident. Her weight is up and her consistent ot/pt has increased her muscle strength and her stamina. She’s in much better spirits, too. Happier. Laughing more. In certain instances now she sets aside the rollator and walks on her own. All of this means that her fitness for surgery has improved since the stent placement in January.

Still no appointment with Dr. Eigner, my urologist. But, soon.

My birthday present is attendance at another Ira Progoff Journal workshop. It’s this May, the 6th through the 10th. I’ve found these workshops, I’ve done three, most recently in 2014, useful. My first was in Wisconsin, in the early 1980’s. That’s when I developed my mantra: Spring rushing, white pine rooting. I’ve used it ever since. The second was in Georgia, outside Atlanta. Don’t recall the work I did there. The third was in Tucson. In that one I stirred things up, discovering a desire to move to Colorado, to be near the grandkids.

progoffThese workshops excel at locating yourself in your life at the moment. That is, what major factors are at play, which threads from your life will gain prominence, or might gain prominence. I want to look at our Colorado life, now three and a half years in, and in particular the knock on effects of our health issues, Congregation Beth Evergreen, living in the mountains, and our family.

 

 

A Beloved Community

Spring                                                                              Rushing Waters Moon

Maxwell Creek is full and running. Another bomb cyclone is on its way to the plains and the Front Range, blizzard warnings are up for lower elevations. We’re in a 6-10 inch forecast area. Right now the clouds are below 8,000 feet, meaning Black Mountain is behind a thick fog as I write this. Temperatures will drop fast. Yes, a mountain spring.

Buddy Tom Crane is on his way home to Minnesota after a week plus on Maui. The same storm will welcome him and Roxann with weather similar to what we’ve got coming. Uff dah.

Tara and Marilyn, CBE

Tara and Marilyn, CBE

An interesting evening at Beth Evergreen. Dan, next president of the board, invited Kate and me to come to a session with each of the two candidates for synagogue executive director. We couldn’t go last Thursday since that was Ruth’s 13th, but I made it for this one. Kate stayed home. She’s saving herself. For Friday night’s Grateful Dead sabbath that honors the outgoing exec, Leah, whom we both really liked.

There were about 20 of us. Some had been members since 1979 when CBE was just a twinkle in a havurah’s eyes. Havurah is Hebrew for fellowship and CBE started as a small group of Jews, mountain Jews living in and around Evergreen. Some of us were more recent members. Kate, myself, and Sheri joined in 2016 or so. The rest, including my buddy Alan, had been members for varying lengths of time, though most joined in the 1990’s.

The idea was for us to meet the candidate, this woman is from Bethesda, Maryland, hear her talk about herself a bit, then introduce ourselves and say what CBE means to us. Here’s what was interesting. With no irony or sarcasm at all folks around the table referred to CBE as family, as place where people felt comfortable, where we loved each other. All adults, all older with a couple of exceptions. It was a powerful evening for that reason. I’m not used to adults sitting around describing their love for folks that are not blood relatives, but that’s what happened.

Chicken Soup cookoff, my entry #7

Chicken Soup cookoff, my entry #7

When it came my turn, I referred to CBE as the beloved community that all Christian churches aspire to. A brief article on caregivers in the Denver Post had pointed to some of the problems they experience. I’ve not experienced any of them except stress. The reason, I said last night, is that we were called and offered help constantly. Kate and I have backup and we know it. We’re relatively new members, yet we’re treated like we’ve been around a long time. That’s a characteristic, a cultural norm, of CBE, and it’s rare.

All this is an important reason for us to stay where we are in spite of oxygen related issues. We can get more oxygen up here, but finding another beloved community elsewhere? Unlikely. Today, for example, I have lunch with Alan. Easy from here.

Kate and Seoahs mother, April 10, 2016

Kate and Seoah’s mother, April 10, 2016

Tomorrow Kate has a pulmonology appointment. Unless they close again for the snow. This appointment is with a nurse practitioner since Dr. Gupta is away. Probably on Maui eating next to Tom and Roxann at Mama’s Fish House. Kate wants to get the radiologists reading of the high resolution c.t. she had last week. We’re also looking for an assessment of her fitness for surgery. The J-tube. Don’t know whether a nurse practitioner can give one or not.

Today is Joe and SeoAh’s 3rd anniversary. This picture is one of my favorites of the wedding. A Norwegian in Korea.

Their marriage has been a blessing for Kate and me. SeoAh has helped out in the last 6 months, coming twice, once for a bit more than month in December/January. As a dad, I’m glad Joe has a partner. As a father-in-law, I’m glad he chose SeoAh. She’s a sweetheart.

 

What Will I Do?

Spring                                                                              Recovery Moon

dreamsGo now, the illness has ended. Feeling 95%. Still something in my lungs, not much. So seven weeks after the molasses filled drive back from Denver, I feel able. Still got workouts and stamina to increase, but I enjoy that. Imagine me doing a little dance on the balcony of the loft, a dance of thanksgiving for a strong constitution and a return to the unremarkable state of health.

What’s next? Call a plumber to fix the toilet leaking from its seal to the floor. Get our hair done. An appointment for teeth cleaning. Mail the taxes. Send Mary the letter confirming her part ownership of that oil well in Canadian County, Oklahoma. Finally get to my trainer for a new workout. Follow up on that PSA increase. Kate’s hi-res ct and visit to the pulmonologist. Get back to regular cooking. You know, stuff. Stuff that we do when we’re not occluded by an internal war between our immune system and some inner space invader.

I also have a lunch with Alan Rubin on Wednesday. Slowly getting back to some contact with CBE. It’s been a long while, but I miss those folks. I was still besnotted during the chicken cook soup cook off and not fully there.

If you want, you can insert a youtube video of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” here.

satireRemember the Producers? Zero Mostel? In it was the classic hit, “It’s Springtime for Hitler”. Well, it’s springtime in the Rockies and all of Colorado. Here’s another pirouette for great comedies and a plié with arm extended for the beauty of Black Mountain.

Not to go too far with this but there is a certain element of resurrection here. I used the word occluded, another word could have been buried. During a long and severe illness we turn in on our selves, our world becomes a primal struggle over which we have little if any external control. By primal I mean just that, a fight waged between cellular creatures so small we cannot see them, entities that have more in common with that first molecule that wiggled in the primordial soup than they do with us. During this conflict the body focuses on the struggle, not on errands, to do lists, future dreams, present possibilities. We become buried by the constant back and forth of immune system versus virus, immune system versus bacteria.

Now, sometimes, but only once, our body doesn’t win. That’s true burial or cremation, or going green into the ground, whatever carcass disposal mode suits you or your survivors. However, most of the time we emerge, as if in a Hammer film, from our undead state to once again walk among the tribe of the still living.

abyssAnd, yes, in that state now, I feel resurrected, reborn, renewed. A little shaky perhaps but that fits such a state doesn’t it? What’s next? Not in the quotidian sense I mentioned above, but what’s next in the sense of  “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver was the poet of our intimate relationship with mother earth. She listened, saw, felt what it meant to be embodied, to be embodied in this amazing natural state, this gift, this once in a lifetime reality that we are.

This one, my wild and precious life, my one wild and precious life, has been returned to me, or at least that’s how it feels. What, as the city planners say, is its highest and best use? I’ve had ideas before, but this is a chance to consider what that means now: 72, mortality signals falling like rain, yet invigorated and experienced, befriended and befriending, not alone, well read, ready. What will I do?

Torschlusspanik

gate closing panic from Tom

With Spitlers and Zikes as two family lineages that feed into mine (Dad’s mom and Mom’s mom), I have plenty of German blood. And even more German culture because it seems to be the one that influenced my upbringing the most. I’m punctual, a bit obsessive about intellectual matters, have a very defined view of physical property and its sanctity, duty and commitment are bedrock for me. Of course there are other influences, too, that Irish and Welsh blood, the majority English ancestry, but those cultures didn’t seem to carry as much weight in my childhood.

Over the course of time I’ve read many German authors and loved them Goethe, Hesse, Mann, Kafka (Austrian), Rilke among them. In spite of my philosophy degree though I only found one German philosopher with whom I resonated and that was Heidegger. The German penchant for systematic thought stuck somewhere in my head, making my think I should produce at least one work in that vein. And, I’ve never been able to do that. Although systematic thought attracts me as a thinker, doing it I find too restrictive, a prison for the mind. It tends to be very culture bound no matter what wonderful insight kicked it off. (Hegel discovered that 19th Germany was the pinnacle of human development, for example.)

When friend Tom Crane passed torschlusspanik along to me, it vibrated down those personal paths: the ancientrail of ancestral culture, the ancientrail of philosophical thought. I felt it more than understood it.

It’s real. I love the image. Death as a gate closing off possibility. I suppose you could say that it’s another version of fear of death, one pressing a bit more against the bone as time passes. The third phase notion I’ve played with for years now is the domain of torschlusspanik. As we pass out of the family and career oriented second phase, our life necessarily includes the reality of approaching death.

What I call mortality signals begin to crop up more frequently. Kate’s bleed, for example. The struggles with oxygen. Glaucoma testing. That 3rd phase kidney disease. Sure, we get these earlier in life, too. When my hearing went in my left ear, I realized my body would not always work as it had. Death is the ultimate expression of the body no longer working as it had. At 38 though I could take the hit and diffuse it over the number of years I imagined I had left. At 72, a different matter.

I watched “Free Solo” this week on Hulu. In it Alex Honnold, the man who free soloed Yosemite’s famous El Capitan, the best wall in the world according to Alex, says, “I don’t want to be happy and cozy. Nothing great ever came from happy and cozy.” You have to hear him because he’s about to climb without rope, with nothing more than his hands and feet and chalk dust, a 3,000 foot plus sheer wall of rock. One mistake and you’re dead as he and others say many times. In another scene, talking Sanni Candless, his girlfriend, who wondered out loud about the danger he faced, he said, “Are you asking if I’m going to optimize my lifespan? No.”

Doesn’t seem like torschlusspanik is going to be much of a problem for Alex. He represents, I think, one end of a continuum. On his end he lives in to the opportunities that present themselves. That’s his raison d’être. On the other end of the continuum are the procrastinators, the never leave the couch (happy and cozy) types. There also the ones stunned early on by social convention, who live their lives according to someone else’s script, looking to external values for legitimation. And, the fearful ones. Who let anxiety about what might happen, or what might not happen clog up their days. Many other types, too. Narcissists. Psycho and sociopaths. You know who they are. Or, perhaps, who you are.

The rest of us fall somewhere between Alex and the damaged folks. On the damaged end of the continuum (and remember we’re talking only about the degree to which torschlusspanik is likely to impact you) it’s not to difficult to imagine a lot of regrets, of disappointments, of wish I could have and it might have been me. That gate might have started closing early, keeping them on the other side, or; it might be starting to close now. What can I do?

And so we return to the question of success that I broached several weeks ago. As I’ve written this piece, I realized that success fits into the stunned early by social convention trap. It is an external value against which we can evaluate our actions, our work, our marriage, our domestic life, our work. Alex, our exemplar, knows what he wants to do. He know how to do it. And, he wants to be great. To do great things. He did. Scaling El Capitan without ropes has been called the greatest athletic achievement of our time.

But I don’t get the sense that he’s measuring his success against other climbers. Rather he seems to be in competition with himself. To be better. To try harder. To reach for the edge of his limits. And, there we are. The answer to the success question. It’s not about external values and evaluators; it’s about the inner drive to know who we are, who we can be. It’s about the sometimes desperate need to express our truth, in whatever medium or context, or shrink away from our life and begin to die. If we have done that, lived into our truth, worked to express it, given ourselves to it time and time again, then the question of success fades away.

I guess you could call it a free solo approach to living.