The other night on the phone I teased my 91-year-old mother that she was going to live forever…
And so far so good, eh?
I could practically hear my mother calculating through her rich, long-ago- premature, silver hair. Finally she asked: How long is forever?
She didn’t ask it in a shrewd manner. She asked it for accounting purposes.
I didn’t quite know what to say. I paused for what seemed like…well, forever. A rare moment in eternity for me. And eternity is really a terrible thought. I mean, where’s it going to end?
I reckoned I had to tread a tad delicately here. Whatever I was about to utter had to land as softly as a butterfly on sore knees.
Finally, in a courteous manner, I offered that forever is: waiting to see how long you have to water board a politician to get him to admit he stole much more than $2 million. And eternity? Hell, that’s what it took the District Attorney to get at least half the truth out of my ex-wife.
“Look, Mom, Moses lived to 129, and Noah got to be about 950.”
“I don’t want to,” she said in rare moment of self indulgence. “It all gets too humiliating.”
We do die in humiliating pieces. We are both undressed and dressed-down by the savage consequences of time.
In truth, as I can say arrogantly, with my planned death still years away, dying doesn’t bother me — it’s the thought of having to be there when it happens that shrivels me where I was already over-circumcised.
I mean, I plan to die in bed with my neighbor’s tattooed wife. But then we all know about plans – plans are those things we make while death is sneaking up on us suddenly like a windshield on a bug.
But to be rather forthright, I intend to live forever – or die trying.
My very capable mother suffers a smidgen from that vice we call pride. And I am glad she does. She taught me to walk with my shoulders straight and to comb back my thick, dark brown hair.
In her younger and thinner-waist days they used her smile, her black hair-in-a-bun and the healthy bumps on her chest to sell most everything from clothes to machinery.
At exhibitions they reddened her lips even redder and rouged her cheeks even deeper. In the 50s and 60s she was the life of the party. Always holding onto the same drink all night long so no one would bother to ask if she wanted another. Men noticed her. Women envied her. And her raucous laugh was a welcome-mat that seduced them all.
But now, all that has changed. The fresh spring flower that was my mother has long wilted. She is down to my height, now – me being the smallest twig in the family tree of everyone well over 6 feet. Her proud hair is wispier. Gravity has caused things to gravitate over the equator.
The last three years she’s been living in a senior home, not far from my brother the doctor who fixes people’s hearts for a living, but doesn’t seem to have a fix for our mother’s saddening, emotional cardio.
My mother still drives and remains mostly healthy. But what she sees around her at the senior home is a psycho drama. Too many people barely surviving on too many pills. Too many people with full time caretakers. Too many people always kvetching. Too many brief, here-today friendships that become briefer mentions in gone-tomorrow obituaries.
“I don’t know why people are living like this,” lamented my mother. “What is the purpose in all this suffering? They’re not living, they’re just begging to die.”
I am telling you, this is a rare moment when Betty R. Strunk lets her feelings go public. We weren’t allowed to have self-pitying emotions growing up. Life is life. Adapt. There is nothing you can do about the weather.
Yet, anybody who sanctimoniously doesn’t think he or she has a breaking point ought to spend a night or two with my ex-wife, Stephanie Blatt. It’ll get you begging. Hell, it’ll give you a better understanding of eternity. As in, where would you rather spend forever: In hell or with hell?
The major force I have reaped from cigar smoking over the years is that there are times to speak and a time to just shut the heck up and be a friend. Of course, as my dominating dear ol’ Pappy would exhale between those omnipotent puffs on his omniscient corn cob pipe: The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.
I take my mother anyway I can still hear her.
My mother said she doesn’t want to live — for as long as those folks who seem to go on forever — if she doesn’t have her health.
And that’s been her mantra all my life: “As long as you have your health you have everything.”
My mother still exercises every day – long walks or water training. But not everyone is blessed with her good genes. My brother, who recently had his cancerous prostate removed, has seemingly garnered the good family DNA. I, on the other hand, reaped the inheritance of all my father’s many physical maladies.
You can’t pick and chose the length of your life. But you can put the life in your days. Some folks brag that they live the gusto because you only live once.
That’s nice, but I don’t desire to just live once, I desire to live every day. Not because I figure that, like my father, my days are slippin’ and slidin’ away. But because life is an adventure. And if you haven’t lived your adventure, what do you have in the end?
Believe it or not, I said to my mother, most nobody wants to live forever if they don’t have their health. I don’t even wanna live without a working winkie. In fact, when I was young we were once so poor, before my father went into business, that if I wasn’t a boy I would have had nothing to play with.
The fact is, it doesn’t matter what we want, because we all get what comes. And then, everything we were, or were not, is simply blown away in the wind. It doesn’t matter if you try to live forever, because one day you simply won’t succeed.
That’s the riddle, the conundrum the mystery and the beauty of life. What really happens to us individually doesn’t amount to much more than an obituary. It’s how we push ourselves forward collectively. I think that’s called progress.
I told my mother we are all rats in a lab here: Just fodder for science, our consumer society and the almighty dollar. In a thousand or a million years they will figure out how to keep us alive and healthy for so extensively long that cemeteries will be offering discounts.
And then, what are we going to do, Mom? I couldn’t stand to watch my niece’s endless recital again, or hear my ex-wife’s constant prevarications ad nausea, or view my neighbor’s vacation pictures for what really would seem like an eternity.
My mother said I made her feel better.
I don’t think my mother drinks enough. In fact, come to think of it, she doesn’t drink at all. But I make up for her.
I said that all I am hoping for is something that definitely won’t happen in her life time and probably not in mine: I want people to have the right to choose to live with dignity or to choose to die with dignity. Free choice and free will should be ours, individually.
My mother paused a minute on the phone. Then she laughed, that celebrated laugh full of so much life. “That ain’t ever gonna happen, son. The big stores want every last shopper. Politicians want our every last vote. And the government wants our every last penny. They want every last piece of every last soul. Then when we’re finally naked, they want everything but our soul.”
Hmm… You know, we do indeed die in pieces. And a piece of my mother’s mind can go a long ways.
And dats yDrewIS on DIS penal colony.