>My twenty years, Doubt, and increments of better


Another year. One year ago, when I began blogging here, I wrote:
Though not inherently an optimist, I’m prone to think a new year may bring positive change. How do arbitrary thresholds hold such hope? Perhaps it doesn’t matter, if indeed we ever get the opportunity to start over, we should grab it. Truth is, I don’t know how to believe in beginnings or endings, since I have found little proof for either concept over the course of my little sojourn here. My days are saturated with relentless questions: Why me? Why this place? Why this life? Why now? Why not? I am torn between wanting to be worthy of the gift of this life and wanting to retreat into timeless indifference. I want to abdicate because it’s all too hard, too painful, too exhausting. Yet I desperately want to cross the threshold somehow. I want gratefulness and generosity to win. For all of us.
Another year, I have some days off work. Some time. Funny concept, owning time, as in: I have some time. Makes me wonder: how much time? Crossing a time boundary reminds me again that time is a construct, and therefore not really real. Thomas Mann, in Magic Mountain provides a marvelous meditation on time.
And what is the cause of the enervation and apathy that arise when the rules of life are not abrogated from time to time? It is not so much the physical and mental exhaustion and abrasion that come with the challenges of life; the cause is rather something psychological, our very sense of time itself–which, if it flows with uninterrupted regularity, threatens to elude us and which is so closely related to and bound up with our sense of life that the one sense cannot be weakened without the second’s experiencing pain and injury. … Emptiness and monotony may stretch a moment or even an hour and make it “boring,” but they can likewise abbreviate and dissolve large, indeed the largest units of time, until they seem nothing at all. Conversely, rich and interesting events are capable of filling time, until hours, even days, are shortened and speed past on wings; whereas on a larger scale, interest lends the passage of time breadth, solidity, and weight, so that years rich in events pass much more slowly than do paltry, bare, featherweight years that are blown before the wind and are gone. What people call boredom is actually an abnormal compression of time caused by monotony–uninterrupted uniformity can shrink large spaces of time until the heart falters, terrified to death. … Habit arises when our sense of time falls asleep, or at least, grows dull; and if the years of youth are experienced slowly, while the later years of life hurtle past at an ever-increasing speed, it must be habit that causes it.
Yesterday I was looking at some of the predictive models we use in palliative care to assist with making survival prognoses. Now, I should point out, these models are pretty useless until the last months of life. In other words, there are so many intervening variables that impact on one’s survival over years, that prediction is neither accurate nor always even a useful construct. That is, until the very end, when those familiar with death can see her approach. But, however useless, I plugged some of my own data into a heart failure model. I learned nothing useful or interesting from this exercise. But I stumbled on the realization that very likely, I am living my last twenty (or so) years of life. This is not surprising, if I live 25 years, I will have outlived both of my parents’ ages at their deaths. What was startling, however, was thinking about how really short twenty years is. If 20 years is a quarter of a life, than three-quarters of my life have passed. I can imagine twenty years, I have already lived almost three bundles of them. A good life: four score. And of course, this prediction is more of an outside guess, not a conservative one. We say (even when we don’t believe its truth) “anything can happen any time.” My son will be the age I am now, when I die. Ah, I could go on ad nauseum, but you probably get my drift.
Today I went to see Doubt. I hope you see it. It was serenely intense and disturbing. Reminds me how little certainty we obtain in a life; how much we demand certainty from life. Reminds me to accept uncertainty, help others to accept uncertainty. How little we really know. The line (repeated twice) that caught me most off guard was spoken by Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep). “When you take a step to address wrongdoing, you are taking a step away from God.” Think about that.
So little time, how to make it better, how to fill it rather than empty it? That is the question I am asking today. How, in small increments, can I make whatever time I have here, alive and here, full?
What I wish for me, I also wish for you.

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