I watched the documentary So Much, So Fast last night instead of writing. Before the siege of social media by the “ice bucket challenge,” ALS was known to me. Lou Gehrig and Stephen Hawking gave it a spotlight. My ex-wife’s mother’s boyfriend died from it. My friend and his family bravely cope with the unstoppable advance of the disease even as I write these words.
Cancer is a rockstar celebrity in comparison. Until recently I’ve dodged any meaningful connection to it. My family heritage has its ills, but cancer isn’t one. My other friend’s long fight with it is my first emotional connection to the disease and things are not going well. Shitty is a good descriptor. It’s blunt and crude, but not an understatement.
My friends are going to die. Sooner rather than later. They have certainty, a truth that is both curse and blessing. I will not insult them with positive thoughts to the contrary. This is where I hand you the cliché that I am going to die too. That’s why it’s a cliché, right? You know it. We all know it.
And here is why I am going to die has no meaning. I live in a bubble of bullshit, making decisions about what matters and how to act and who to listen to while completely denying the one true gift of existence. My friends can’t bullshit themselves anymore. Their bubbles have popped. There’s only one thing left in the vacuum.
Time does not give a fuck about my station or belief or ego, ambition or lack of. It does not care if I do a thing or not. It is indifferent to my bliss or suffering. Time grinds mountains to dust. Time kills stars.
Time is relentless. It forgives no one and no thing.
My friends know. They know that time is the most valuable gift life has given them. They are focused with righteous intention on spending it in ways that truly respect the days they have left. And I’m ashamed that I can write these words as I float in my bubble. I piss on my days and watch them flit by. How can I disrespect my friends like this? How can my habits have such power over what I know to be true?
I’ve made a lot of decisions that changed how I spend my days so when I die I will not be smothered with regret but I still feel like I’m failing. Where’s my drive? Where’s my passion? Why can’t I swallow the uber-cliché and SEIZE THE DAY?
I’ve never been a driven man, at least not in the ways applauded by our culture. That’s not to say that I’m lazy, I’ve been employed almost continuously in some fashion since my mid-teens. I know the world of work. I was taught a “good” work ethic, whatever that means.
I lack self-determination.
Thankfully, I’ve shed enough self-loathing to know I’m not to blame for it. Am I guilty of being complicit? Certainly. The world is a machine and it has a place for you. Everything it does reinforces that aim. It will not aid you in any effort that does not serve it. And that has been what the past five years have been about. The death of the robot. The death of the follower. The death of the pleaser.
My favorite joke I tell about myself is this: I plan like I have sex. Hardly ever. It combines self-depreciating comedy with ironic truth, two of my favorite things. My track record with life-planning has been cosmically tragic so I’ve made NOT planning a kind of thing for myself. Being an unfocused rebel has only complimented my comedy of errors.
While the quiet ones probably view my decisions differently, I’ve been told I’m brave, that my pursuit is noble. It feels nothing like that. Every step away from the story that the world has written for me is more difficult, less sure. And in this netherworld between what was and what will be, two things eat at me: discipline and imagination. Both fail me. Meanwhile, the clock ticks on without mercy. The days are bleeding out like a head wound. Without someone telling me what to do and when to do it, I’m lost. I’ve made the bold move to take back what is most sacred, reclaimed what I’ve sold to others for next to nothing, but I don’t know what to do with it.
I know I need to get a grip. I need a plan, a ritual of my own design. My insight is clear, the execution flaccid.
The most frustrating truth is my way is somewhere between self-control and letting go.