My day began as do the vast majority of my days: a quick read through my RSS feeds which basically serve as my daily newspaper. My imagination was most captivated by an article about the black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy: Sagittarius A* (pronounced “A” star).
The article featured a video rendering of the radiation data produced by the activity of the black hole as it sucks the immediate area of our galaxy around it into its vortex and periodically belches and spews incomprehensibly intense levels of radiation back out into the galaxy. It’s all so unknowable and so beyond my ability to understand, even imagine. I personally lack the metrics to even dimly comprehend the power of such a thing.
After my daily RSS reads, I tackle email. I got a reply to an email I sent to some wonderful friends. I had emailed them to speak of my support in this horrid time in our country when their community is under attack. One of their daughters lives in Pennsylvania, the state in which the Trump-inspired white nationalist terrorism attack took place1. Reading her email, I was jolted from the political horror that is now our nation back to a more immediately pressing reality.
I worked with D.2 and know her husband, S., a brilliant, insightful writer3 and amazing man. I was unaware that he was diagnosed with ALS in June and his physical health is rapidly failing. He apparently is now at a point where he can do nothing for himself. Breathing is even supported by machinery. Every day his muscles grow less responsive. As he writes in his online blog chronicling his journey, “At night, when I sleep, I feel my muscles twitch with their mysterious fasciculations. I feel, at times, as though I am on fire with electrical energy. It is like a symphony.”
I read all of his blog posts this morning. His blog is now part of my morning RSS feeds. His posts are now being typed for him by his caregivers. They dread the rapidly approaching day when he will no longer be able to speak. Reading of his journey was simultaneously heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny, as S. is, as I mentioned earlier, an incredibly witty and insightful man.
Reflecting on the inescapable physical demise of our bodies instantly changes perspective. Balancing such burdensome contemplations with the ongoing work of day-to-day living is simultaneously an act of celebrating life, everyone’s lives I think, and measuring meaningfulness and the substance of “well-lived.” The very name and subtitle S. chose for his blog speaks to this: “the Concentrated Mind: ‘Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.’ – Dr. Samuel Johnson’” And having a noose replace the letter “o” in “concentrated” is his creative mind at work.
Celebrating the Past: The Day of the Dead
Now the Halloween season, the Day of the Dead, has officially come to an end. We all have many whose beautiful lives are now only lived through our memories of them. I don’t know about you, but I try, sometimes more successfully than others, to honor those lives, those legacies, by living each of the days that are given to me as authentically and abundantly as I possibly can–as an ongoing way of celebrating the heritage of love they selflessly gave to me when they we here.
Celebrating the Present: Thanksgiving
We now push forward into my favorite season: Thanksgiving. I begin this special season of Thanksgiving by celebrating this very difficult day in which I witness more of the substance of courage itself: wonderful, brave human souls facing the intractable challenges of growing, substantive physical limitation. They do so with all of the dignity, physical and spiritual energy their souls afford them. As D. so beautifully said at the end of her email to me, “We’re hoping for a scientific miracle, but in reality we know it will not come. My husband is the bravest man I know.” Theirs is without doubt a display of the full magnificence of human life.
I am filled with gratitude for their contributions to my life. Yes, I honor them on this first day of my 2018 season of giving thanks.
Don’t even try to defend that piece of shit to me! ↩
who, day in and day out, selflessly contributed to the lives of her students who each faced difficult learning challenges ↩
Writing was not his trade but is more his personal and shared inspiration. He describes himself as a former corporate drone and the blogosphere’s premier Colander Model. And yes, I’ve seen the photos. ↩