This past week I was trying to shove my feet into my sturdiest pair of hiking boots, a pair I hadn’t worn since last Fall, and when I got them on it was only by curling my toes under slightly. They obviously no longer fit, and trying to make them make do would be only to regret it later as one’s feet slowly reddened and blistered and bled.
At first I thought … there it is again, my feet growing as I age. I had been told this in the past, and kept repeating it mindlessly. But this particular morning I thought “Wait a minute! All of our bones stop growing in length by age eighteen years!” That is when the growth centers, the epiphyses, close for good. The bones can become slightly thicker or more dense, but not longer. What was the deal?
So I looked it up and found that the culprit was that the ligamentous tissues of my feet were softening, and therefore my arches were relaxing and stretching out. Now because of the flat feet Mother Nature endowed me with in the first place, I would have thought there would be very little increasing that could possibly occur with time. And yet my shoe size has gone from 10 1/2 to size 12 in the past six years. I suppose I am not done yet, and these canoe paddles now at the end of my legs could continue to grow even bigger. At that point they will be quite near to clown feet slapping on the pavement.
On Sunday last I posted an observation on the passing of two friends. Sarah C. commented and added a quote from a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay that looked promising, so I dug around in cyberspace and here it is:
Dirge Without Music
By Edna St. Vincent Millay
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
Now that’s a brave approach, one that I can get fully behind. “I do not approve. I am not resigned.” The thing is, though, that while you and I might opt for the stalwart approach, death doesn’t care much whether any of us approves or not. If the grim reaper can be said to have any human quality at all, it is indifference. Indifference as to timing, personal goodness or badness, socioeconomic status, height, gender, age … anything criterion you care to name. We ask the question “Why me?” and the answer comes back from the void “Why not you?”
Oh, there are some rules. If you smoke three packs a day and gorge yourself on red meats it will likely call out your number much earlier than in the case of a non-smoking vegan. If you are 90 years old, your number is statistically ahead of that of a young child. If your gin intake in any given month would be enough to pickle and preserve the carcass of a large goat, you may as well put your affairs in what order you can with the short time you have left.
I had barely begun my investigations into Buddhism when I ran across The Five Remembrances. The first time I read them I thought how interesting it was that so few words could be so depressing. I also thought: “Well, wouldn’t this be a cheerful bunch to hang around with.”As I went through the statements one by one, I paused at the end of each and silently reacted with a “Yes, but … .” It was too much reality, you know? Bummer with a capital B.
The Five Remembrances
- I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
- I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape having ill health.
- I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
- All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
- My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.
But as they ricocheted around in the growing empty spaces inside my skull, I began to see the reason for such bold statements. Their purpose was to toss a pail of cold water on whatever remnants of my thinking were still in Pollyanna mode. Here are some truths, they said, what are you going to do about them? The answer for me eventually was to begin to come around toward healthier consumption, toward kindness and compassion, toward trying to be of some small use to others.
Of course even to the glummest of Buddhists the Big Five are not all there is to life. They make no mention of mountain sunrises, children’s laughter, the joy you feel when a loved one comes home after a long journey. How many moments of wonderful does our life on earth hold? None of these things are in The Five.
But those statements’ purpose is to focus our attention very sharply. Don’t waste a minute, they say, not a single one. The present moment is all you ever have.
Daughter Kari sent me the link to this video in response to Sunday’s mention of the animated video “Souvenirs.” The humorist Will Rogers famously said that he had never met a man he didn’t like. I haven’t been so lucky, and have met a few stinkers along the way, but I have yet to meet someone who didn’t like John Prine. A fine performance here. Just three guys in nice suits making a whole lot of music.
If the only bad thing that Covid-19 had done was to carry John Prine out of this world two years ago this April, that would have been enough to damn its nasty little viral soul to hell right there. Of course, it was not the only bad thing it did, this monstrosity we couldn’t see, not the only thing at all.
I’m going to double up today on Prine, with another tune from the same video album, Live from Sessions At West 54th Street. It’s a good way to close up this post, it seems to me. (In the song he refers to yet another tune, Louie Louie. I append that as well.)
We gotta go now.
(BTW, the DVD containing this concert is still available but in short supply. You can find one in the iTunes Store for $299.00. That is not a misprint.)