old enough to die

“Old Woman with Child & Goose” by Willard Metcalf

Once I realized I was old enough to die, I decided that I was also old enough not to incur any more suffering, annoyance, or boredom in the pursuit of a longer life. I eat well, meaning I choose foods that taste good and that will stave off hunger for as long as possible, like protein, fiber, and fats. I exercise — not because it will make me live longer but because it feels good when I do. As for medical care: I will seek help for an urgent problem, but I am no longer interested in looking for problems that remain undetectable to me. Ideally, the determination of when one is old enough to die should be a personal decision, based on a judgment of the likely benefits, if any, of medical care and — just as important at a certain age — how we choose to spend the time that remains to us.

In giving up on preventative care, I’m just taking this line of thinking a step further: Not only do I reject the torment of a medicalized death, but I refuse to accept a medicalized life, and my determination only deepens with age. As the time that remains to me shrinks, each month and day becomes too precious to spend in windowless waiting rooms and under the cold scrutiny of machines. Being old enough to die is an achievement, not a defeat, and the freedom it brings is worth celebrating.

~ Barbara Ehrenreich
(Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer)

A year after my cancer surgery it seems like a good time to mention a book that tumbled into my life at just the right moment. After my brush with a life-threatening illness, the ideas set forth in Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Natural Causes, make a whole lot of sense to me.

I spent many years carting my mother-in-law, my aunt and my father around to those “windowless waiting rooms,” getting test after test, some of them downright painful. My aunt finally put her foot down and proclaimed, “Whatever I’ve got, I’m taking it with me.”

She lived to be 103 in spite of refusing all the standard tests recommended for her in the last years of her life. When she died, it was from an infection. After accepting treatment for a day or two, she finally refused treatment for that, too.

Nothing ever came of those countless tests.

In my own case, because my mother died of breast cancer, I have submitted to many “required” mammograms and wound up with three false positives, causing weeks of anxiety. Now I refused to have any more. At this point in my life I am old enough to die, and if I wake up one morning and feel a lump in my breast, so be it.

The endometrial cancer I wound up getting? Well, there is no screening for it. Irony.

Fortunately I’ve found a general practitioner who understands my feelings and treats my “urgent problems” without pushing me into a “medicalized life.” Barbara Ehrenreich’s book has all the facts and figures I needed to convince me that as a culture, we are indeed killing ourselves, or at least making ourselves miserable, in order to live longer. All these expensive, invasive tests have not increased our lifespans.

Therefore, I have chosen to enjoy spending whatever time I have left to me without borrowing trouble.

Finn

Finn

Little grandson Finn has been home for a few days now and we are all very busy! His name is Irish, given to him as a nod to his family’s year in Ireland, where he was conceived.

Finn McCool (Fionn mac Cumhaill) was a legendary Irish giant who fought the Scottish giant Benandonner, who was threatening Ireland. Larisa, Dima and Katherine visited the Giant’s Causeway while they were in Ireland.

A blessing for a brother written by John O’Donohue:

The knowing that binds us
Is older than the apostrophe of cell
We formed from within the one womb.

All that flowed into us there
From the red village of ancestry
Sowed spores of continuity
That would one day flower
Into flickers of resemblance:

An unconscious gesture
Could echo an ancestor,
And the look of us stir
Recognition of belonging
That is ours alone;

And our difference finding
Its own rhythm of strangeness,
Leading us deeper into a self
That would always know its own
Regardless of difficulty and distance;
And through hurt no other could inflict;

Still somehow beside each other
Though the night is dark
With wind that loves
To clean the bones of ruins,
Making further room for light.

~ John O’Donohue
(To Bless the Space Between Us)

throwing away all of your possessions once a year

“Autumn in New England” by Maurice Prendergast

If you rake fallen leaves into a pile and then examine them, you will see that each one shows a consummately clean break at the same place near the base of the stem. The fall of leaves is highly choreographed: First the green pigments are pulled back behind the narrow row of cells marking the border between stem and branch. Then, on the mysteriously appointed day, this row of cells is dehydrated and becomes weak and brittle. The weight of the leaf is now sufficient to bend and snap it from the branch. It takes a tree only a week to discard its entire year’s work, cast off like a dress barely worn but too unfashionable for further use. Can you imagine throwing away all of your possessions once a year because you are secure in your expectation that you will be able to replace them in a matter of weeks? These brave trees lay all of their earthly treasures on the soil, where moth and rust doth immediately corrupt. They know better than all the saints and martyrs put together exactly how to store next year’s treasure in Heaven, where the heart shall be also.
~ Hope Jahren
(Lab Girl)

take time by the forelock

2.2.18 ~ Fota Wildlife Park, Carrigtwohill, Cork, Ireland ~ lion

A wise man will know what game to play to-day, and play it. We must not be governed by rigid rules, as by an almanac, but let the season rule us. The moods and thoughts of man are revolving just as steadily and incessantly as nature’s. Nothing must be postponed. Take time by the forelock. Now or never! You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.
~ Henry David Thoreau
(Journal, April 23, 1859)

Thoreau wrote these words when he was only 41 years old. (He died at age 44.) When I was 41… Let’s just say that after a childhood of ‘finding my eternity in each moment’ I found a way to squelch that way of being until I was into my 40s. But ‘living in the present’ has been coming much more naturally to me in the past twenty years. It’s a blessing to be alive.

This summer has been unbearably hazy, hot and humid. So many heat advisories and air quality alerts. I cannot remember the last time we turned off the air conditioners and opened the windows. I am crazy with cabin fever and going outside offers no relief.

But, I had some good news yesterday. I had an appointment with my oncologist and he found no sign of cancer recurrence! So I don’t need to see him again for a whole year!

Come, autumn. Please! Time to curl up again with a good book. To ‘launch myself on a new wave.’

comfort

7.13.18 ~ Groton, Connecticut

Sometimes I think it must have been much easier to live and die at the time of our ancestors, the Vikings.

When they buried their relatives, they also buried many objects together with the body. This was to be sure that the dead would not miss anything in their new environment. It was also an assurance for the family members who remained that they would not become obsessed with spirits of the dead and constantly be reminded of them because their possessions were still scattered all over the tent or mud hut. Very clever.

~ Margareta Magnusson
(The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself & Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter)

7.13.18 ~ Eastern Point ~ my camera decided to go Impressionistic for this distant cormorant

You might guess from my recent choice of reading material that I’m still struggling with the objects and possessions I inherited from our ancestors. Things started piling up around 2008. Hard to believe it’s been 10 years! I have managed to dispose of a lot of stuff but cannot rest on my laurels. What’s left is stacked halfway to the ceiling in a corner of what is supposed to be the genealogy/guest room. The corner takes up almost half the room.

7.13.18 ~ Eastern Point ~ there are three cormorants in this picture, which I didn’t realize until I saw the picture enlarged on the laptop

Trouble is, life (births, illnesses, travels, weddings, visitors, deaths) keeps happening and I need a good chunk of uninterrupted time to roll up my sleeves and dig in. Now that there is a lull in the stream of summer activities I am annoyed by the droning of the air conditioners. But I since learning about the autism I am aware now that I am much more sensitive to noise than neurotypical people, so, I will wait patiently for some cool, dry, quiet weather to return.

7.12.18 ~ Grandmother Elm ~ Stonington, Connecticut

We enjoy going to estate sales. We rarely buy anything but a few days ago we found a large file cabinet in excellent shape at a great price. It is now in the genealogy/guest room waiting for me to make use of it. After my grandmother died my grandfather offered us anything we wanted in the house. I chose my grandmother’s mahogany secretary which I still have and treasure. Grandfather said he didn’t want us grandchildren to be burdened with all the stuff. I don’t want my children to be burdened either.

7.12.18 ~ Grandmother Elm ~ Stonington, Connecticut

I’m also sad about the changes at my beloved beach. The city has installed a gull repellent system. Every three minutes a recording of a gull in distress blares out from the loudspeakers. There are maybe two or three fearless gulls left on the roof of the beach house. All the laughing gulls are gone, all the different kinds of gulls are gone. I suppose I will never see my friend with the mangled foot again. It’s all too much for me to bear and I’ve been reduced to tears more than once this summer.

7.12.18 ~ Grandmother Elm ~ Stonington, Connecticut

I visited my elm tree, Grandmother Elm. I cannot believe it’s been 5 years since I have gone! I used to visit all the time when Tim’s brother was living with us, the year he died here of cancer. Now she has small stems and branches growing out at the base of her trunk, covered with leaves. When I read The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben I believe he said this was a sign of distress. No other tree in the cemetery was like this. Perhaps she is suffering, too. Still, her wordless wisdom comforted me.

7.12.18 ~ Grandmother Elm ~ Stonington, Connecticut

a tiger that devours me

2.2.18 ~ Fota Wildlife Park, Carrigtwohill, Cork, Ireland ~ Sumatran tiger

Time is the substance from which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.
~ Jorge Luis Borges
(Labyrinths: A New Refutation of Time)

a lovely winter river walk

1.29.18 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway

Janet and I had lunch and a lovely winter walk yesterday. The Poquonnock River Walkway runs along the east side of the Poquonnock River and we started at the north end of it. As we walked south a huge flock of Canada geese floated down the river, honking among themselves. We wondered what all the “conversations” were about. When we turned around and headed north again the geese, and a couple of swans and ducks who had joined the procession, turned around and started swimming north, too. Were they talking about us perhaps?

1.29.18 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway

The trees silhouettes were so pretty against the cloudy sky.

1.29.18 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway
1.29.18 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway
1.29.18 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway
1.29.18 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway ~ sumac
1.29.18 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway
1.29.18 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway
1.29.18 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway ~ abandoned bird nest
1.29.18 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway ~ duck couple
1.29.18 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway ~ dining on underwater vegetation
1.29.18 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway ~ the geese weren’t hungry but the swans were finding a feast below the surface
1.29.18 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway
1.29.18 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway ~ bottoms up!
1.29.18 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway ~ a small segment of the goose parade, there might have been over 100 of them according to Janet’s guesstimate
1.29.18 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway

In rivers the water you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes. So with time present.
~ Leonardo da Vinci
(The Meaning of Rivers: Flow & Reflection in American Literature)

1.29.18 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway
1.29.18 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway
1.29.18 ~ Poquonnock River Walkway ~ side view of Poquonnock Bridge Baptist Church across the river

Tomorrow I’m off to Ireland!

joys may sometimes make a journey

Chinstrap penguins ~ Image source: AnimalSpot.net

The Things that never can come back, are several —
Childhood — some forms of Hope — the Dead —
Though Joys — like Men — may sometimes make a Journey —
And still abide —
We do not mourn for Traveler, or Sailor,
Their Routes are fair —
But think enlarged of all that they will tell us
Returning here —
“Here”! There are typic “Heres” —
Foretold Locations —
The Spirit does not stand —
Himself — at whatsoever Fathom
His Native Land —
~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #1564)

Goodbye, Old Year