Shorter of breath and one day closer to death


We had a hail storm a couple of days ago. I was eating lunch and watching TV when it rolled in. The sound of the storm drowned out the sound of the TV. It was only pea-sized hail, but it came down so hard and furiously that it was a roar against the roof and the windows. The dogs were pretty freaked out about it.

In the aftermath, we had piles of hail like snowdrifts in our yard. Our cars, parked in the driveway because of all the garage sale stuff in the garage, were coated with shredded fragments of leaves ripped from the maple tree in our front yard. All of the blooms on the petunias that Linda had planted in the flower boxes lining the perimeter of our deck were gone. Most of the cherry tomatoes on the plants in the backyard were on the ground, ripe or not. The broad beautiful leaves of the hostas were in tatters.

There had been nothing in the forecast about the storm. In fact, just a day or two before, I remember checking the extended forecast for any chance of rain in the near future. A twenty percent chance was the highest I ever saw. The storm was a total surprise, coming out of virtually nowhere.

Linda saw meaning in it. Not the supernatural, message from God type of meaning, but the “there’s a lesson to be learned from this” kind of meaning.

We never know what’s coming. The COVID-19 disaster is a recent global example of the truth of the often paraphrased quote from Scottish poet Robert Burns, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” (I paraphrased, too, since most Americans, myself included, wouldn’t know the meaning of “Gang aft a-gley.”)

We can make the most detailed plans, as Linda and I are trying to do for our move to Europe. But those plans can forcibly change in the proverbial blink of an eye.

Some examples: Linda’s back now from her three weeks in Hawaii where she went to care for a friend who is going through chemo. These treatments had to wait until her friendrecovered from the first attempt. She was so allergic to the drug they used last year that she nearly died from the treatment before the disease had a chance to take her out.

Then, there's the friend that we went to Minnesota a few weeks ago to move back to Colorado into an assisted living facility. He alternately likes and hates where he’s living, depending largely on what he happens to remember at the time. He feels trapped because he can’t go driving wherever he wants, and frequently has to be reminded that his license was revoked a couple of years before.

Linda’s parents are still having challenges in adjusting to their new digs, also in an assisted living facility. They built their house over fifty years ago and raised all their kids there. It was the only home they knew for over a half century. Now, they’re in an apartment a fraction of the size, with people coming in at various times throughout the day to administer drugs, help out with other things, etc.

These things came as a surprise. Granted, there are some things that can be predicted. For instance, when your father had Alzheimer’s and your mother had dementia, you can figure the chances are pretty good that you’re going to develop memory issues like the friend from Minnesota.

We don’t have any glaring issues like that in our history. But we’re both in our sixties now. Time has crept up on us. Every day of our lives was always one day closer to death, but now, each of those days is a lot more precious. A well-known phrase came to Linda’s mind.

Carpe diem.

Linda has been battling feelings of guilt about considering moving away from friends and family to pursue what’s essentially a selfish dream. But we never know what’s waiting around the corner. We don’t know how long our bodies are going to last. It’ll be hard to see Europe in a wheelchair or a walker.

This notion of doing what we have to do for ourselves hasn’t really helped Linda with the feelings of guilt. She still feels like she’ll be abandoning her parents and friend. But at least they’re now in facilities where their physical needs can actually be cared for by people qualified to do it. These facilities don’t provide love, it’s true, but as Linda noted, she can call them and Skype with them.

It’s time for us to seize the day. Or, as English poet Robert Herrick wrote:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
   Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
   Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
   The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
   And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
   When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
   Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
   And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
   You may forever tarry.

We need to gather some rosebuds, before the next hail storm batters them to the ground.