Tag Archives: Life

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Life has a way of tapping you on the shoulder to ask if you are making the most of what time you have.

And then there are times life punches you really, really hard to ask if it’s got your attention.

A friend and former colleague dying one week after he learned he had cancer qualifies as one of those moments.

George Spohr, who had been a business editor at The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., found out he had cancer on his 37th birthday.

This is his clear-eyed text message five days before he died:

“For the past few weeks, I’ve been pushing past a lot of abdominal pain. The pain got so bad that I was hospitalized in Syracuse the past four days (I was home visiting family for the weekend). They found a mass on my liver, and spots on my pancreas and lungs that might be related. They did a biopsy and I got the results on Thursday evening. I have cancer. I don’t know much more than that; it’ll take a few days to learn what options for treatment I may have or how advanced it is. But I wanted you to know. The prognosis isn’t good (yesterday might have been my last birthday), so please keep up your prayers.”

I wish I could be a scold and say, “See boys and girls? This is the reason you should be sure to go to the doctor regularly.”

But that would not only be insensitive but untruthful.

George, according to a mutual friend, had been diligent about seeing the doctor regularly. Tests leading up to the discovery of his cancer turned up nothing abnormal.

He was a bear of a man, with a booming laugh and a toothy smile. He was an unabashed fan of White Castle and would make a point of posting photos of ones he visited as he crisscrossed the country.

He would punctuate gossipy conversations with “Are you serious?!”

George claimed to be a Republican and fan of Trump’s. With him, you could never be quite sure if he was pulling your leg.

That led to this text exchange with him after he told me the news:

Me: “But yes prayers bigly! Yuge! Hope you cracked a smile. Sending prayer and heartfelt wishes for strength and healing.”

Him: “Thank you, sir. Yes. #maga. Always!”

In the beginning, I had a combative relationship with George over turf issues in the newsroom.

Over time, we grew to mutually respect one another and the talents we each had and from that, our friendship grew.

I watched as he advanced in his career, moving from one newsroom leadership position to another in Oregon, Pennsylvania, and finally Indiana.

The way he died seems so desperately unfair, implausible and frightening.

I would be lying if I said that it did not have me badly rattled.

I am one of those people who have 1 percent of their mind occupied with anticipating the random worst things that can happen to myself or loved ones: a crash, terrorist attack, illness, derailment, etc.

I like to think that partly based on past personal experience (the unexpected death of my fiancée) and a longtime career in news, I’m braced for those out-of-the-blue moments.

But maybe not.

George’s death reminds me about a philosophy my wife and I share about gift-giving: Rather than getting a CD, we might consider tickets to a concert or a play instead.

Behind that premise is the notion that time spent with friends and loved ones — and the memories and stories they create — will last longer than any material object.

Another friend called it creating “scrapbook moments.”

My scrapbook with George is perhaps thinner than I’d like but I thought there would be time to add more memories.

Life reminds you though: Not always.

Rest in peace, George.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello, Darkness

In the world of social media, everyone appears to live in a happy, carefree place.

But do we really?

Is it more the reality that, as Henry David Thoreau once observed, that “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

I wrote the following as a snapshot of some of the struggles that I — and I think many guys — confront at a certain age:

The Irish, according to my wife, have an expression that goes like this: “It’s a grand life, if you don’t weaken.”

It captures some of the dark humor of a society that endured famine, discrimination and all kinds of hard times.

But it also embodies something else I have been thinking about: Does life ever get easier?

Think about it: When you were an infant, someone fed you, you napped when you want and crapped your pants at your leisure.

As a child, you got to play pretty much all day and had your meals and laundry done for you.

Chores, responsibilities, careers, paying bills, parenthood, confronting aging and your own mortality, all of that nonsense that is part of adulthood can really rob you of the joy of life.

There is a scene from the British television comedy “Fawlty Towers,” where the protagonist and henpecked husband Basil Fawlty, played with such comedic brilliance by John Cleese, has this piece of dialogue with his wife, Sybil, played by Prunella Scales:

Basil Fawlty: [putting an arm around Sybil] Seriously, Sybil, do you remember, when we were first manacled together, we used to laugh quite a lot?

Sybil Fawlty: [she pushes him off and exits] Yes, but not at the same time, Basil.

Basil Fawlty: [to himself] Ah, that’s true. That was a warning all right, I guess? Should have spotted that, shouldn’t I? Zhoom! What was that? That was your life, Mate! Oh, that was quick. Do I get another? Sorry, Mate. That’s your lot.

I find myself at 53 having more and more of these kinds of introspective thoughts — more questions really.

Is that all there is?

Is this what life is supposed to be about?

One endless clawing your way from one day to the next, trying to survive and maybe scratching your way forward in increments?

Can I still find my passion in my profession, one that I’ve dedicated more than 30 years to?

Yes, I’ve been blessed with good health, a loving family and friends and a rewarding career but when I look forward 20 years, I am not sure I can have a lot of confidence in my future quality of life.

Maybe some of these dark thoughts are fueled by corrosive world developments: a rogue state with growing missile capabilities led by an erratic and unpredictable leader, dire forecasts of how climate change will affect a sustainable future and an evolving economy in which job insecurity feels more like the rule than the exception.

It seems cruel to me that at the time you can most enjoy your life — after you retire (although who knows what that will look like) — you will likely be on a fixed income and unless you have taken care of yourself, your health might be too iffy to do many of the things that might enrich your life.

Is it really the case that as the saying goes “Life’s a bitch and then you die.”

I sure hope not.

 

Related:

How I Dealt with My Depression

“Manopause” and Having a Midlife Crisis

“Remember, Thou Art Mortal”

My wife and I talk often about life and how, in an instant, it can be randomly snuffed out.

A driver blows through a red light and runs into another car.

An undiagnosed medical condition takes the life of a young man.

A freak accident at home kills an infant.

Maybe it’s because Meg and I have decades-long backgrounds in news that our exposure to the unpredictability of death ranks above average. We also have both experienced the loss of someone close to us.

It certainly makes for grim dinnertime conversation, but it also serves as a reminder to appreciate what we have in our lives.

No matter how much wealth, material possessions or professional success we amass, it’s all immaterial in the end.

It is said that during Roman times, a slave stood behind a triumphant returning general or emperor and whispered in his ear: “Remember, thou art mortal.”

This comes to mind because tomorrow marks three years since Meg and I and my son Daniel were driving back from visiting Skytop Lodge in the Poconos.

As we got on Route 390, it began to snow. The road was covered quickly and there was not yet a chance for the plows to get out.

I was driving about 35 mph when I saw a car coming around a curve in the opposite direction way too fast – fishtailing like mad – and making a beeline right for us.

To avoid a head-on crash, I pulled over to the side of the road as far as I could.

It wasn’t enough.

I found myself screaming: “Brace for impact!” (Yes, for real.)

With that, the other car slammed into our driver’s side with a teeth-rattling, body-jolting impact. I can still hear the noise.

Both driver’s-side doors were pushed forcefully shut and we could not escape from the passenger side because the car was now wedged tightly against a rock.

Thankfully, passers-by and rescuers got a door open and we escaped – unharmed.

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It was scary how close that came to being a head-on collision.

There it was: We randomly happened to be there when this knucklehead (who was ticketed BTW) was driving way too fast for the road conditions.

Any one of us could have been killed or seriously injured.

More recently, Meg emailed me while she was running errands in Middletown, N.Y.:

“I was driving on 211 — just left the mall and passed a giant collection of cop cars and ambulance, etc, just at the turn I would make to go into the strip mall where Starbucks is.

A minute or two earlier and I would have been one of those vehicles. I thought ‘Thank God’ and then of how many near misses there are in our lives that we don’t even know about.

Then I knew that I wanted to tell you that I love you — and I want you to save this one if ever there’s a time when I can’t say it — know that it’s in my heart always.”

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Do I Really Want to Live That Long?

The other day I took one of those absurd Facebook quizzes that bombard my feed. You know the ones like, which Biblical character are you? What color best represents you? And, if you were a tree, what kind would it be? (Apologies, Barbara Walters.)

This quiz asked a series of questions to determine how much longer you would live. It was multiple choice, with questions about my favorite beverage consumption and least favorite holiday, among other things.

Shrug. Sure, why not?

I went through the quiz and answered accurately and honestly, never giving a thought to where this might lead me.

The pop-up box declared that I would live for another 44 years and some-number of months. (The smaller number escapes me because I was so gobsmacked by the first figure.)

Forty-friggin’-four more years!? Are you kidding me?

In essence, this little parlor game was telling me I am essentially only halfway through my life.

My reaction to this finding (which has about as much validity as a Magic 8 ball or the “Zoltar Speaks” fortune-telling machine from the movie “Big”) surprised me.

I don’t want to last until I am 94!

Seriously.

I love my wife and my sons, but not to sound cliché, I don’t want to be a burden on them in my advanced dotage. (Besides, my wife and I have a pact that we are both going out together in a burning bed set ablaze by the embers of our passionate lovemaking.)

I turned 50 in October, and while I am benefiting (finally) from many emotional insights and real-life wisdom, my body seems to have other ideas. Though I work out and eat right, there is more snap, crackle and pop in my joints than a bowl of Rice Krispies.

I have seen the ravages of dementia in relatives and the toll of age on mobility and energy. I think I can stay pretty active and sharp for another 20, 25 years, but beyond that, I have my doubts.

I have witnessed what others have endured in what is euphemistically called “elder care” and I don’t wish that on my sons, who I want to go on living fulfilling, unencumbered lives, free of adult diapers, trips to the doctor and circular conversations.

And for sure, I have not saved nearly enough money to last me into my 90s.

I fear much more the death of my loved ones than I do my own. The question of what is a “good” age to die has been explored recently, with at least one essay concluding that 75 is an appropriate age to go.

That sounds about right for me. I am sure there are those who will disagree with me and think my outlook is all rather selfish.

Perhaps.

But if you will excuse me, I’ve got to get busy living what’s left of the rest of my life.