Rambling Rumination: Tomorrow is Promised to No One
by Marc "Crafty Dog" Denny
(c) 2015 all rights reserved
It is my wont to greet my birthday with "Another year closer to death!" Occasionally I greet friends' birthdays in this manner; usually they are not sure how to take it! Regardless, it is true: every day we live brings us closer to death. In this regard I take to heart the words of Castaneda's "Don Juan" about using death as an advisor.
I cannot say I know my friend, neighbor, and fellow martial arts instructor Morgan well. Indeed, Our friendship has consisted mostly of watching the UFC together and discussing martial arts. I have found him to be an extremely knowledgeable observer of the MMA scene and the fight history of the fighters as well as an unusually perceptive analyst of the fights themselves. Ours has been a friendship of a shared interest.
Morgan is fifty five years old. He and his wife Vanessa own the other house on the same plot of land in which our house is located. As such, we regularly run into each other around the parking area or coordinating rolling the garbage cans to and from the curb.
As I write this Rambling Rumination Morgan lies quite close to death due to throat cancer; he may die tonight.
In his battle with cancer, he has never wavered from composure. The doctors first told him he had an 80+% chance of recovery and after months of chemo was told he had beaten the cancer. Then, the cancer returned a few months later.
What does one say when being informed of such news? What does one say each and every time one runs into him as neighbors do? All words feel banal , , , but with Morgan there has been no need for such words.
He has had no complaints. No "Why me?!?" No mention of "Well, now that I know my time is short, I am finally going to do This and That!" for Morgan was already living the life he wished with his wife, Vanessa.
Instead, he took great joy in seeing to it that his material possessions went to those to whom they would serve best. In my case I availed myself of his inversion table and some books. My son chose a spear with a tri-tip. He made sure to talk to the adolescent son of a friend who was dabbling with cigarettes to serve as an example of the foolishness of this path.
He brought to mind a story I was told many years ago of a friend's father who was on his death bed on a Sunday with the family assembled around him. They asked what he wanted to do and he replied "What do you think? It's Sunday and the Detroit Lions are playing!" He happily watched the game because that is what he did on Sundays during the football season, and passed peacefully sometime in the third quarter.
In Morgan's case there has been an ongoing quiet parade of friends coming by to hang out for a bit, to walk his dog "Bob", to help with grocery shopping or picking up medicine, and so forth.
One day we were all invited to come by to say goodbye, and some fifty or so of us were in attendance.
Obviously, the potential for pathos and self-pity are high in such a moment. Though many got teary and lost composure as they told Morgan what he had meant to them, Morgan never did. When my time came, my words were few and I spoke simply of being able to tell a man had lived well when he changed nothing in his way of living in the face of bad news. There was a moment of eye contact between Morgan and me, and perhaps I flatter myself but I think he felt understood in that moment.
By showing me how to die, Morgan has taught me something profound about how to live and I will remember him. I know not whether I will be a fraction of the man he has shown himself to be should I be blessed and cursed with foreknowledge of my time, but I do know that between now and then that he will be a tuning fork for me with which to test, and if necessary, reset my spiritual vibrations.
This year there has been a glorious Indian Summer well into October with the temperature typically being in the 80s and the ocean in the mid 70s. It has been as if the summer would last forever.
I am not a particularly good swimmer and I find doing laps in a pool exceedingly boring , yet back in July while standing on the bluffs while overlooking the ocean at Avenue C I saw a buoy that the lifeguards told me was about 200-250 yards out and it occurred to me to take it as a challenge-- both physically and to my fear lingering from a near death experience in which a strong rip tide carried me out to see in Buzios, Brazil many years ago. see http://dogbrothers.com/nlp/#more-77
. I checked in with the life guard, put on some boogie board swim fins, and set out.
At first, even with the flippers, the 1/4+ mile swim was a real challenge for me-- but unlike a pool where one can quit whenever one gets lazy or challenged, here there was no quitting until I was on the beach again!
Each day I went for my swim I honed various details in my stroke, form and breathing. I also listened to the chatter of my mind, and frequently it had to do with sharks.
I remembered the opening scene of the movie "Jaws" wherein a girl was having a moonlight swim and got hit from below and her scream cut off as she was taken under leaving only silence and the eternity of the ocean where her life had been but moments before. And so I looked for birds diving into schools of feeding frenzies. I looked for shark fins cutting through the surface towards me. I mentally replayed news reports of numerous shark attacks on the east coast (North and South Carolina and Florida mostly) and , , , central and northern California. I mentally replayed local news reports about how there are juvenile Great White Sharks where I was swimming that went off shore as they grew above 6-8 feet and imagined an eight foot great white swimming up to me. Would he be just curious, or would he be sizing me up for dinner?
Then I would remind myself that of the millions of people swimming in the ocean of Los Angeles that none had been attacked by sharks.
This had a calming effect , , , until I said to myself "Yeah, but how many of them are a couple of hundred yards offshore? Perhaps a few serious folks training for triathlons and the like-- but there are not many of those!"
And so my chatter would resume.
Some of you who have known me for a while may remember that from time to time I speak of the "mental chatter" in the days before the fight. It is my understanding of a concept that I take from Buddhism, and the path to Buddhism's goal of stilling the mind is one I have found in the higher consciousness of real contact stick fighting-- with the meaning of the solution experienced being one I look to apply throughout my Life.
At present, in this regard I am meditating upon an internet meme I posted recently on my FB page wherein two friends are sitting together on a dock overlooking a large body of water. One says "Death is inevitable. One day we will die" and the other responds, "Yes, and we will be alive every day until then."
And so I like to think that if I have time to reflect when my time comes that amongst the days I have lived well will be one where I stood at the top of the bluffs overlooking the ocean on a day when everything was perfect. At 10:00 the temperature was already eighty and the cloudless sky a gorgeous blue. The surface of the ocean was like glass, the water was clear. As I stood on the bluffs sizing up if there were any rip currents, I knew the water would be warm. I knew there was a life guard to keep an eye on me as I pretended to bravely challenge my flippered self with a quarter mile swim-- and I knew my wife and two children awaited me at home, a mere five minutes away.
The perfection included my fears of the unseen sharks lurking in the ocean serving as death's counsel to live my Life well. The perfection included my fears of one day getting myself killed overdoing my challenge to myself to overcome my fears anchored to my near-death experience that day in Buzios.
I experienced deep connection to a deep sense of gratitude to our Creator and walked down the ramp to the beach to continue with the next step of my little buoy swim ritual and told the life guard "I'm going out to the buoy and back. If you see me anywhere else, come get me!"
Later, as I was approaching the wave break coming back in, a small pod of dolphins swam by me about thirty yards away. They too had fins that broke the surface, but unlike the lateral undulations of a shark's spine, theirs was vertical and so I knew them to be dolphins and not sharks.
Tomorrow is promised to no one, and death will come to us all someday, but that day was not one of them and I lived it fully alive and with gratitude.