Here we are again at one of those three-day, holiday weekends – Memorial Day in this case – also known as the unofficial beginning of summer. Personally, I don't want to rush spring out the door three weeks before its time but no one asked me and the world continues to turn on its axis taking no account of my preferences.
This is the first time in several years I've remembered today's holiday. Retirement does that to you: without an external force such as an employer to organize your days or having others at home who depend on you, it feels like just another Monday.
That may change if Trump pardons some convicted war criminals as he has suggested he will do today. If he does, I doubt I'll forget Memorial Day again in my lifetime. Rather than the stately remembrance of U.S. fallen soldiers that the holiday has been all my life, it will become something less, something shameful.
Speaking of my lifetime, it's getting to be long-ish, 78 years at last birthday count. Any of you following my cancer updates know that the chemo I've been infused with every two weeks since January is doing its job, reducing the size of the cancer nodules and slowing their growth. No one can tell me how long this will work. Friday will be two years since I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer so I've already lived a year longer than statistics predict.
Being told you have a disease that will kill you in the not too distant future certainly is a wake-up call. For me, the largest question was how to spend the time that remains. With – happily – no bucket list, a large disinclination to get on an airplane ever again and plenty to hold my attention at home, I decided to keep doing what I do. Which sounds boring to a lot of people.
It is not. I produce this blog which involves some amount of work every day. Hang out with friends (as long as it doesn't involve an airplane to do so.) Read books. Listen to music. Watch movies. And the one that nags without let-up or any help from me: what does it all mean?
In recent days, that last one has been insistent and I will undoubtedly die before I figure it out.
One of my stock texts for this endeavor is Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by neuroscientist David Eagleman. I have mentioned the book before in these pages and dipped into its pleasures many times since it was published in 2010
Today, I had to give up trying to find at least one of the two copies I own which tells you something about my late-life filing capabilities. Here is blurb for the book that does a better job than I can of explaining its contents:
”In one afterlife, you may find that God is the size of a microbe and unaware of your existence. In another version, you work as a background character in other people’s dreams. Or you may find that God is a married couple, or that the universe is running backward, or that you are forced to live out your afterlife with annoying versions of who you could have been.”
My personal favorite sets the premise that we can choose whatever we want to be in our next life. Sounds good, right? Except – important disclaimer: Eagleman uses the example of a horse: when you have made your choice and as your body is transitioning into a horse, there is a point at which the brain becomes enough less human and more horse that it can no longer understand or reverse the change-over. You're stuck being a horse indefinitely.
That one makes me laugh every time – it is much like some life events that don't work out the way we planned – usually without such dire consequences as the horse story, but not always.
I have an afterlife idea of my own.
Almost every day now, I sense that I am no longer of this world. I have no idea who the top music stars are and there is, I suspect, not a single current song I could identify.
Most nights, I have no idea who the guests are on late night talk shows nor on Saturday Night Live.
Why do about three-quarters of all movies (and many TV shows, too) involve half-humanoid killing machines who use a lot fire and high-powered explosives to cause uncounted, horrific death, but no dialogue?
Why does most clothing for women have no sleeves? Or pockets?
Why do online publications supply weekly lists of the the top 75 best books to read “this month”? Lazy movie reviewers do the same, 100 best movies. Don't they know too many choices is no choice? I wouldn't read a list of anything that long – it has no meaning. And why does Netflix give me a list of new releases for this month at the end of the month?
There is more but it's all in the same vein. I am not comfortable in our world anymore. I don't feel like I belong here. Maybe it's something in the water. Just the other day, TGB reader Lynn Lawrence, referring her enjoyment of antique china tea cups and embroidered table cloths, had the spirit to say it out loud in the comments:
”I know, I know, it sounds like I'm pining for the good old days. Well, I am.”
So I think I've got an afterlife for people like Lynn and me: we return to this world at a point in our previous life when we were most comfortable with the culture. No embarrassment. No shame. No feeling we don't belong. Just a place where we are welcome as we are.
The sense of belonging that I miss is just one small corner of the discomforts that seem to be piling up. Some have zero importance to life in general even if I feel the loss. Don't laugh, spinach is one: It used to be wrinkled, had a much stronger spinach-y taste than the new flat kind and you had to be sure to rinse off all the sand it had grown in before using.
God help me, it is with such as this that I squander my time.