Posted by: Harold Knight | 10/23/2012

It’s all about me (no one is forcing you to read this)

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Gay pride Dallas. Oh, to be young again.

In the time since I last wrote here, the world has turned itself not quite upside-down, but certainly at an angle I scarcely recognize. We’ve had the blossoming of the Arab Spring, and the last Space Shuttle fight (and the death of Neil Armstrong), and the death of Big Tex at the Texas state fair; we’ve had the near completion of the George W. Bush center for the rewriting of history, the deflowering of Lance Armstrong’s fame, the deaths of both Whitney Houston and Donna Summer—and of Gore Vidal and Sally Ride. Most of these events are matters of course. [And the deaths of Nora Ephron and Marvin Hamlisch.]

None of these milestones, you say, are eventful enough to have turned the world to an unrecognizable angle. They are all a matter of course. I ought to know that. I came of age singing “To everything, turn, turn, turn” (the Byds, 1965 – Google it on youtube if you’ve long since discarded your album and forgotten to buy it on iTunes).

The reason I see the world’s turning to an angle I scarcely recognize has nothing to do with any of these events. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, I am most likely to die only once, and it will happen on the average when I am 76.7 years old (1). On average, I should now live less than ten years longer. Of course, both my father and his father lived to be older than 90, so I my genetic makeup might give me as many as twenty or twenty-five more years.

“. . . there is a season, turn, turn, turn. . .”

Other sorts of things have also changed in my minute perception of the world. I have fallen in love – well, now, “Mustard! Don’t let’s be thilly!” (Look it up.) We all know a 67-year-old man cannot fall in love. So I’ll let you figure out what to call it. I have experienced more moments of pure joy in the last six months than I did total in the twenty-five years prior.

I’m also past the age we all thought when we were growing up that I’d be retired and traveling to see the Great Wall and Rapa Nui National Park, and the migration of the Emperor Penguins. The sad fact is I must keep working as long as they will let me because I could absolutely not survive on my Social Security pension (which I’ve been drawing for over two years now), and I have almost no other assets. (One is not supposed to talk about such things in public—at parties with friends, much less on the irretractable and completely non-private world of the internet. But I logged onto the internet once in 1994, and since then every bit of minutiae of my life is public. I might as well tell you I have no “retirement plan” to speak of because you can find out exactly what my bank balance is if you want to. Privacy is a non-existent commodity these days, another “turn, turn turn.”)

Can you imagine riding down a city street in Dallas wearing nothing but a loincloth and not simply allowing but encouraging people to take your picture? Gay pride. Or exhibitionism. Perhaps 47 years ago. . . “turn, turn, turn.”
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A new birth of freedom.

Standing beside the words of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address carved in the wall at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., two weeks ago, I did not expect to be moved to tears. I don’t know for sure whether they were tears of joy, of gratitude, of grief—of some feeling I cannot name of understand—but tears they were, and they come again looking at my photo. My students have been writing about the Address. I’ve wanted for years to use it in class because it is the bit of writing that comes to my mind most often out of nowhere—the line that I hear is, “a new birth of freedom.”

I hear that line not because I know Lincoln’s reference is to something like the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution (although that is the real meaning). It comes to my mind because what I yearn for most is a new birth of freedom for myself.

Todd LeRoy Perreira hints at the new birth of freedom I wish for. He says,

“. . . [O]ne of the essential skills in the art of living. . . indispensable for rendering absurd the glamour of vanity [is] “Meditate again and again” on death, [as insisted on by] renowned Tibetan scholar Tsong-kha-pa (1357-1419), “until you have turned your mind away from the activities of this life, which are like adorning yourself while being led to the execution ground” . . . [T]he injunction to train one’s self to “die” before dying also corresponds with a moral imperative that obligates the practitioner to decipher the true nature of his or her being and, by so doing, undergo a process of self-transformation that is decisive. . . the Rinzai master Shidō Bunan (1603-1676) famously declared: “Die while alive, and be completely dead, Then do whatever you will, all is good” (2).

Two caveats:
First, I know quoting in chunks this way is diametrically opposed to the writing process I teach my students.
Second: I am not contemplating my own death, and I am not depressed.

On the contrary, I am very much alive and wanting to live–much longer than my allotted 76.7 years. However, the more I want to live; the more fun I have playing the voyeur and reading letters by David Diamond, Aaron Copland, and Leonard Bernstein; and the more joy I experience having found a man to love as I have never loved, the more I want to be sure I “decipher the true nature of [my] being” so I can do whatever I will.

I’m back here on my blog and being as sophomoric as ever. But with an urgency that I think comes only with reaching a certain age. I am there.
______________
(1) Park, Alice. “U.S. Life Expectancy Lags, Slips in Women.” Health & Family. Time. June 15, 2011. Web. 12 Oct 2011.
(2) Perreira, Todd LeRoy. ““Die Before You Die”: Death Meditation As Spiritual Technology Of The Self In Islam And Buddhism.” Muslim World 100.2/3 (2010): 247-267.

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Responses

  1. Well, my brother is your age and he just remarried. Outward signs might indicate he is in love. Grace happens? 😉

    I don’t remember there being some age disclaimer in that contract…

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  2. A George W. Bush Center for The Rewriting of History at first seems apropos; however, upon deeper thought I remember “weapon-of-mass-destruction.” I do not think this should be a tall-order of yours, seeing as we’ve been mired for the past 5 years is what he and his policies wrought this country (both economic and warmongering). He is and has little to celebrate; I how would consider his center should be located on the 5th floor of a walk up library.

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