Fear not Death; he’s not your master, Coming at you faster, faster. For the creator of Death (what or who) Also created thee. And that’s the only mystery. BURMA SHAVE |
Well, those aren’t factual Burma Shave roadside signs—the kind I saw as a lad—but they’re typical, right? The theme is straight from a Dean Koontz novel. By the way, is there anywhere in the country where Burma Shave signs still exist?
Upon completion of undergraduate study, I worked as a consulting field engineer mostly in and out of major automobile factories in the Midwest. After a year and a half, I moved across the country and found work as a test engineer mainly concerned with statistics, probability, and reliability of electro-mechanical products. The “reliability” part is a science applied for predicting infant mortalities (or early failures), the failure rate occurring during normal life, and wear out failures—the life cycle.
I learned that the reliability life cycle curve is a universal reality. It applies to everything: mechanical, computer, and electronic devices; flora, fauna, planets, universes---AND people.
Simply speaking there are high rates of failure at the beginning of, and at the inevitable end of a life cycle with predictable steady state failure rates in between. The curve looks like the profile of a bathtub. For marketable products, If the business is customer-focused, the product is “burned-in” before it leaves the factory to eliminate infant failures and life-cycle tested to predict wear out failures. The latter to advertise and provide a warranty for the product.
For my own personal reliability curve, I have just begun to leave the steady state zone and enter the end-of-life zone. One could consider me successful since I avoided death as an infant; and from sporadic causes in the meantime. I can pinpoint the exact date I entered the final phase: August 24, 2020. More on that later, but first let me tell you about my particular (and predictable) daily pattern.
It has been my habit to awaken early and get up at once. Even when it is cold with a damp mist in the air, I prefer to go for a brisk morning run. Some say running is a bore, but I find it a time to contemplate. I review 1) what’s gone right; 2) what’s gone wrong; and 3) think about what action I should take on the difference. Sometimes I find solutions. Sometimes I encounter the unknown and unknowable—like wondering if there is an afterlife.
Once I had a very sincere religious fellow tell me, “I KNOW that life after death is true!”
I replied gently, “My friend, you do not know that’s it’s true. You have faith that it’s true.” Knowledge and faith are mutually exclusive.
Some say the universe is well-crafted, beautifully designed, and orderly. I disagree. I believe the universe is a disorderly, chaotic place filled with entropy like billiard balls careening about on a destructive journey. It’s our human perception of time that makes it seem like the former. Example: There could be a destroyer quasar created 400 years ago, larger than the entire Milky Way, heading our way that hasn’t arrived yet. Scientists know those killers are out there.
Since my parents have passed on, I’ve had a particular sensation during the early running hours. In the pit of my stomach, a sense of melancholia arises. In the silence, only disturbed by my footfalls, I experience an extraordinary sense of desolation. It is as if I step from the close womb of sleep into another place—that of the universe itself which, perhaps, has no end so that I am at the same time forever trapped, yet utterly alone.
The melancholy is bittersweet. It’s like a conversation in which no words are spoken aloud. It is if I say, “Very well. I accept that I will wander forever on the empty roads of the night.”
And yet, even in making this sad submission to the universe, even as I move into the region beyond tears, rather like the relief after weeping, I feel warmth in my stomach that spreads with a tingling sensation. It’s a secretion deep inside of tremendous joy, and even of love that made itself known in those silent times just before dawn when I see a sleeping head on the pillow beside me. Our love is like a drop of amber that has trapped a tiny animal a millennium ago in its warm embrace—and in doing so captured the love-light to be preserved as long as the earth shall last. Other times I feel as if she and I together are on a vast, endless expanse enjoying our brief, passionate moment before we disappear. And because our love is so complete; it is enough. This is what we are. When it is done, I am content to be no more. And if the great darkness that follows is eternity, I am at peace with that too. One thing is certain. When I am with her I know with certainty that this; and this alone, is my true homecoming. And that for the rest of my life, it will be my years with her against which all things shall be compared.
Unfortunately, I have been unable to adequately communicate my somewhat abstract reality to her—at least in a way that she understands.
Later in the shadows of my run, my mind turns to my parents.
It’s been several decades since both died; but I still remember them pulling into the garage, and the rattle of golf clubs being removed from the car. I watched my mother go from a bright, lively figure to a shell rotted from the inside by Alzheimer’s Disease; and my father slowly succumb to the forlorn rags of growing old and falling apart. When Mom entered the wear out failure zone, the process took 12 years—only seven for my father.
As I gasp for breath, sometimes coughing up chunks of my lungs, my eyes fog over, and I am completely unaware of where I am and where I’m going. I can see them, my parents and my ancestors, tall, noble figures resting in their graves, figures receding into the mists of time. And if perchance they are watching me, I vow they will not be disappointed, but I know given my follies, in some ways they must be. Like I said, unknown and unknowable.
Perhaps I am in error in predicting the aforementioned date (08-24-2020) as my transition into the last phase of my life cycle, but the situation definitely gained momentum on that date. To clarify, I once wrote about the first day I saw my enemy in the mirror—maybe 10 years ago. That may have been the beginning. I wrote that my sight and hearing were fine, but the trouble was that the visions and sounds came through the imposter’s eyes and ears. Also, his hair hadn’t yet started to gray, but it was thinner.
On August 24, I was hospitalized with a stubborn kidney stone. While there, they pumped me full of an antibiotic called ciprofloxacin or Cipro for short. Cipro attacked my tendons and joints, which caused pain anywhere bending took place—wrists, fingers, shoulders, hips—you get the idea. The warning sheet supplied with the oral tablets indicated that aftereffect was probable. Further, that it could be a short term or permanent situation. Trouble is I didn’t read the warning sheet until the pain began—that’s on me. The solution of the medical professionals was I should take oxycodone to stop the pain. What??? So, the advice was keep taking Cipro though it may cause irreversible damage, and habit-forming oxycodone to mask the pain. I decided Big Pharma must be paying off physicians, and decided to take neither.
By relying on several remedies suggested by a top sports performance analyst, the pain has greatly improved. Was improvement the result of the remedies, time, or a combination of both? Damned if I know. I do know that when I run or play tennis, my hips and back punish me afterward for a day or more. However, being an optimistic chap, I expect full recovery.
The analyst who prescribed the remedial action plan told me not to get discouraged, and to relentlessly keep it up. He said it was like completing a 162-game baseball schedule not a 10-game high school football schedule. That’s what I will do. I mean, I got nothing else, y’know? I want to slide back down the curve in the opposite direction.
I’m not ready for sleep’s big brother.
By Gene Myers—still a cockeyed optimist.
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