Monday, August 19, 2013

Old Bones

Like a dog with an old bone, some people...I being one of them...seem to become fixated on certain things, carrying that fixation with them wherever they go and refusing to let go of it. My fixation, as you surely know if you've read my blogs with any regularity, is on the passage of time and the unavoidable inevitability of aging.

There is nothing more futile, frustrating, counterproductive, or ungrateful than railing against aging, especially since growing old is a privilege denied to so many. But I can't help it: I am so utterly fascinated, intrigued by, and desperately in love with life that I cannot bear the thought of losing it. I know—with more sadness than I can possibly express—that it must end, and that I am engaged in a losing tug of war with time, which drags me ever closer to that scratched line in the dirt which separates life from death.

Life is a contract with pages of tiny print to which no one pays attention. Every human being is subjected to the terms of the contract, but we simply skip to the bottom and sign the agreement without being fully aware of what's in it. We spend our first forty years or more assuming that life is a totally no-strings-attached gift. And then, slowly, we become aware of what lies in the contract's clauses. Taxes and penalties start to accrue, with increasingly larger payments in the form of a repossession of those things we assumed were ours unconditionally and forever.

As a rule, these unseen “taxes” are taken so gradually we aren't even aware of the withdrawals from our account at first. Of course in my case, my bout with tongue cancer took a large bite out of my account, unquestionably aging me by several years and dramatically heightening my awareness of how much has been taken. Living as I do near a large university campus doesn't help my ability to try to overlook it. As I get off the el near the DePaul campus, I watch the students bound down the stairs two and three at a time in an effortless “da-dum-da-dum-da-dum” cadence. There is a rhythm and fluidity to it I never noticed while I had it, but of which I am excruciatingly aware now that I do not. They run easily across the street to catch a bus. I jolt and lurch. There is no fluidity to my movements, nothing even resembling grace. (Imagine Frankenstein's monster trying to run and you pretty much have the picture.).

And the most maddening thing, to me, is that all my life...all my life...I could do these things without a single thought. (Perhaps that's my message to those who withdrawals from their “account” have not yet become noticeable: when you move with grace and ease; when you run, when you bound up and down steps, be aware of how blessed you truly are: rejoice in it.)

Glancing over the above paragraphs, I realize how ungracious my complaints are, how ungrateful I appear to be, not for having things taken away from me, but for ever having had them at all, when so very many people never had them. I suppose I am in the position of a very rich man who has lost his great fortune, giving no consideration, no empathy, no true understanding for all those who have never had the things I bewail having been taken away from me. I complain when I cannot raise my head high enough to look up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, totally ignoring the fact that tens of millions of people have never been to the Sistine Chapel, and tens of millions of others are unable to see anything at all. I cannot bound down a flight of stairs or run across the street to catch a bus, but I have two functioning legs and I can walk, where so many cannot.

And as I reach the end of this blog I once again find that what I intended to be a cautionary blog for you ends up being a cathartic wake up call to myself.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

My mentor, instructor and friend from college was just diagnosed with kidney cancer. Fortunately, it is operable and curable, but it's given his family and friends as well as both him and his partner a start.

I just emerged earlier this year assisting someone with cancer, so I'm a little more informed about it than I was before. I spoke with him on the phone for about an hour the other night and we had a very, very good talk.

The plan is for me to assist with keeping his spirits up before and after the surgery, plus I will venture over to the other side of the state once a week or once every two weeks depending on scheduling once he's able to have company.

I'm not ready to have another one go and I won't let him get to the mindset of wanting to give up. Not going through that again.