“Live all you can – it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you haven’t had that, what have you had?”
I pray that this message finds some meaning with you because it is very personal to me.
A week ago I had an interesting encounter with someone I casually met at the gym. Her name was Moe and she was sitting by the pool waiting for the child she babysat to finish his swimming lesson. You know me – I can’t neglect a random opportunity to get to know even the most casual acquaintance out of courtesy and genuine interest. She was a student at LBSU and shared with me some of the challenges she faced growing up with her family as well as on her own. Not your “garden variety” upbringing so the discussion got deeper about what she’s in the process of learning based on her own experience, and the questions that remain through her lack of experience. As higher education tends to do, it raised additional questions between what she was led to believe in her youth and what was being introduced by her professors. It didn’t surprise me when she raised complex topics such as the meaning of life, our existence, life after death, Heaven and hell, etc. You know, just those “routine” concepts without any satisfactory definition or precise answers. I enjoy conversations where the youthful explore the depths of their intellect so this turned into an enlightening discussion for both of us.
So of course, why not ask the old guy sitting next to her about his general take on those issues that perplexed her. I shared the story of my injury and a quick summary of my recovery along with things I’ve learned which immediately raised her level of interest in whatever insight I could provide. I shared with her that I used to wonder in my youth whether our existence was just an expansion of the dreams of a higher being’s reality. If so, would our life be extinguished when that being awoke? Maybe the product of one too many “Twilight Zone” episodes, and a couple college philosophy and logic classes. Made for an interesting topic during those mind expanding discussions with friends fueled with the proper amount of alcohol and “intellectual narcissism”. Lord I miss the days when I thought I knew it all!
When it came to life after death, I told her as a Catholic and an optimist, I pretty much have no choice but to believe in it. Besides, the concept of “nothingness” undermines my basic belief structure in right verses wrong and the eternal consequences of both. Thus I believe that God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Virgin Mary exist regardless of whoever’s depiction of them because I can’t accept that I’ve foolishly been praying all this time to a higher power that has never been! However I did add that if it turns out that I’m wrong after I die and there is actually “nothing”, I’m going to be pretty pissed off. I left her with this thought: on certain days I’m not sure that I didn’t die and go to Heaven because so many of my days following the accident have simply, for lack of a better term, felt “heavenly” so to some extent, I have seen slight glimpses into its existence. The only way I’m reminded I’m not in Heaven is my annoyance with traffic, rude people, smart people doing stupid things, out-of-proportion ego and vanity, and “competitive suffering and martyrdom” without sufficient cause to support it.
Stay with me as I elaborate while steering in a slightly different direction as I get to my point. When I was in high school, I read a book that was required reading called “Flowers for Algernon”. It was later turned into a movie that my Mom introduced me to called “Charly”. I think that movies were her way of getting life’s lessons across that she couldn’t articulate on her own. Anyway, the story involved an adult man who worked as a janitor at a bakery. He was mentally handicapped but was generally happy in his existence, unaware that he was frequently the butt of jokes by his co-workers and others around him. He eventually underwent an experimental surgery that was successfully used on a mouse named Algernon, who became his initial competition in maze challenges. Shortly thereafter, he rapidly developed an intellectual capacity that transformed him into a genius. However as his cognitive skills grew, he was sorely unprepared for the complexities of relationships including personal, social, romantic, physical, etc. Processing problems with black and white solutions was easy while circumstances that fluctuated within gray areas proved more troublesome and distressful.
As he gradually began to be more comfortable in those arenas, he noticed that Algernon began to regress. He began to understand that the results of the surgery were only temporary and that he would soon return to his former state. However before that occurred, he devoted his remaining intellectual capabilities to assist in correcting the flaws in the surgery. The final scene of the movie shows Charly, following his return to his mentally challenged state playing on a park swing, content and happy within a world of his own perception and free of life’s normal complexities.
In the introduction of the book, the following words of the philosopher Plato was included. “Anyone who has common sense will remember the bewilderments of the eye are of two kinds and arise from two sources: either from coming out of the light or from going into the light,…”
Getting close to the point! I’m now a bit past a year that concluded a problematic point in my life leading to my injury, and began a self-evaluation and rediscovery of that life from the same injury. I’m in somewhat of a stalemate regarding which direction of the light I’m headed and bear with me as I explain.
Right now I continue to manage a peaceful and tranquil equilibrium in my existence albeit from a non-conventional approach. I am satisfied in my current make-up and how I share and express the best parts of me. Who can really say that these days? Now the conundrum and possible turmoil.
Am I going in the direction of a return to the organized chaos and potential obsession that being a lawyer can entail? If so, what will be the response to the professional demands that require personal sacrifices that can lead to the disruption of my figurative general infrastructure. I’m not as concerned with this possibility because I feel that what I’ve discovered and accomplished is too valuable to give up and there’s always the hope of exploring alternative outlets with different fundamental goals.
Now to the “Charly” story and it’s relation to my private, solitary concerns that occasionally find their way into my thoughts. I’m going to wager that those closest to me who have witnessed my recovery, including my doctors, are somewhat astounded by its overall progress considering the challenges that initially needed to be overcome. To be honest, so am I and not only from a medical standpoint. It’s difficult to explain other than I’ve become more aware of the connection I can have with my surroundings and the people circling within them so that I truly engage in the art of living.
It sometimes feels too good to be true to the extent that I can’t escape the possibility that it may not continue. I guess it’s triggered by: each occasional dizzy spell; each time I’m lightheaded when I get up too fast; each time I struggle for words so that every day feels like I’m constantly solving a crossword puzzle; each name I can’t recall; each word I can’t spell; simple numbers I can’t add, subtract, multiply, or divide quickly or successfully; nondescript physical ailments; every dream/nightmare of unknown origin (hopefully just from medication); and, just general temporary breakdowns in cognition. I mean are these just parts of my injury and recovery and/or age appropriate afflictions, and thus explainable? Or more troubling, am I like “Charly” and seeing symptoms of a decline that may take me back to where I started last November? Again, maybe it’s difficult to imagine something being too good to be true that it has to end sometime which is a frightening possibility because I truly love and cherish this life. Then again, what’s to convince me that it’s not so maybe, I should not disturb my ongoing daily approach by worrying about it so much? Just in case, I’ll just avoid taking “lazy steps” in the event something’s trying to chase me down!
So the answer is to “live all I can because it’s a mistake not to” as suggested above. I’ll continue to believe that there is a Heaven and with that belief, I’ll live the “hell out” of each day! And just to hedge my bets, I’ll find a piece of “Heaven” within myself, with others, and in the appreciation of life’s “basic, simple elegance” because in the 24 hours I have to experiment with, I’m sure I can create and find something. And as part of that process, I’ll incorporate the following quote. “Mix a little foolishness with your prudence: It’s good to be silly at the right moment.”
Thank you for your patience. I just needed that and maybe you’ll take something from it too.