By John Knapp
Today is the day before my birthday, which is Monday, July 24th. That’s right. It’s birthday eve, when all the older children sit around wondering what the hell happened. Or not.
I’ve been sitting back assessing the past and future as some are prone to do annually at this time. That probably explains the 14% uptick in the death rate before and after birthdays.
I’ve written in the past about my health issues. Despite my best efforts, my heart disease has advanced. I followed the best advice, watched what I ate, exercised, etc., to no avail. So, what they don’t tell you when you get a bypass is that it doesn’t cure your heart disease. Like chemotherapy, it buys you more time, but doesn’t necessarily stop the disease, just slows it down. Or in my case, bypasses it.
One of the things I’m going to stop doing is searching for a cure. I was never going to get out of here alive, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life pining for that hot dog I wanted, but never ate because I was afraid it might raise my cholesterol. Life is short. I’m having the hot dog for my birthday. And an ice cream sandwich from Ruby Jewel.
And I’m going to quit taking my vital signs. I now have ischemia (lack of blood flow), and atrial fibrillation, which causes your heart rate to speed up or slow down, skip beats and the like. I’m constantly taking my pulse. There’s a Spanish saying that goes something like, “The man who takes his pulse is already dead.” I intend to tell that to everyone with a Fitbit, thus hastening my death, more than likely.
I think while I’m at it, I’ll get off my own back. I’ve lost a couple of hundred pounds in the last few decades, but spiritually, I think it’s still there. I lug the baggage of my life around, unzipping the bags, pulling out the dirty laundry, packing it again. Time to quit lugging it around. As the blind monk in the Star Wars movie “Rogue One” said to a member of the rebel alliance, “There is more than one prison. I think you carry yours wherever you go.” Time to turn in that “get out of jail free” card.
The past few years have been a game of chess. I have been moving the pieces on the board as best I could, focusing on only the chess game, ignoring the rest of life unless it had to do with curing what ailed me. In the end, I found it was never heart disease that ailed me, it was my search for the cure of the wrong disease. My disease was my ignorance of fully living the life I was trying to extend.
I think now about how I want to be remembered. My dad didn’t want to have a service, or any kind of memorial or tombstone. He was cremated and his ashes taken out shortly afterwards, and without ceremony scattered in Puget Sound. The sea is probably getting tired of people doing that, and will take no pride in receiving mine, anymore than the others. I will leave it to those who survive me to decide on memorials. Funerals and memorials are for them, not the dearly departed.
Tomorrow I will more than likely wake up, turn 63 and go into work, joining billions of others in grieving Monday morning. I’ll spend the first few minutes shaking off the numbness, then I’ll make my to-do list and dive in.
When I get home tomorrow night, I’ll attempt to quit swimming upstream in my own life, and try to go with the flow a little more. In that regard, I’m reminded of the closing paragraph of one of my favorite books, West with the Night, by Beryl Markham:
“And so, the little freighter sat upon the sea, and, though Africa came closer day by day, the freighter never moved. She was old and weather-weary, and she had learned to let the world come round to her.”
John Knapp lives and works in Vancouver, Washington.
Editor’s note: I’ve known John since 2008, when he became one of a dozen Oregon and Washington residents selected to write for The Oregonian’s Sunday Opinion section. He’s a remarkable guy: smart, funny, honest, very self-aware and very empathetic to others. And as anyone can see, he’s a terrific writer. Hell, yeah — have the hot dog
Tomorrow: Michelle Love, The Cross of Malta