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Living and Dying in Real Time

By Tom Gilbert - Copyright © October 4, 2014

We are all doing it – living and dying. And it is all happening right here, right now in real time. But we don’t often think about it that way. That would be a little too intense.

Yet in the quiet times, late at night on the back porch, lying in bed as a new day dawns, in the corridors of hospital rooms while we wait for news, news that might bring life or death, in those times it is real and it is right now. Bob Dylan has a line in his song, It’s Alright, Ma. The line is, “He not busy born is a-busy dying.” 

As a teacher, writer and personal historian I can’t help but confront this truth on a regular basis. I truly enjoy helping young people discover new things. The joy of teaching outweighs the terrific workload and hassle that sometimes comes with grading, administration, and yes, even parents. For me, writing is a way to process this. I do it with journaling. I do it with blogging. And I go deeper with projects like a memoir. Personal History is the preservation of the stories that come out of the living, the dying and the writing.

If you have pondered the purpose and meaning of life, both your own and others, then you are a good candidate for preserving your life in narrative form. We all have a story, the story that we are living each day. It is rather difficult to make sense of it on any given day, or moment. Life is happening and there are things planned for, the expected. And there are the surprises. Breaking a shoestring. Being laid off from a job. An unexpected pregnancy. Winning the lottery. Getting diagnosed with cancer.

Reminiscing requires patience. Reflection done in a conscious way helps us to ponder the significance of life. And for those things that don’t make sense it is even more important to find time to pause, think, question and discuss.

Many writers, artists and creative people can be loners…and lonely. At the same time, they often crave the response and approval of others. We can’t understand our lives inside the walls of self. We need to interact and participate. I ping my ideas off others. The ideas of others bounce around in my head and heart and stimulate more thoughts. Anyone who has ever experienced the communion of audience and artist can relate to the spiritual elation that sometimes results.

Finding the outlet for your story is not too hard. You can write a memoir. Find someone to interview you. Turn on a recorder and talk. Write an honest and heartfelt letter of what is truly important to you that can become a legacy letter or ethical will your loved ones will treasure long after you are gone.

Family can be the most challenging area. For me it is what I find ultimately most important. At the same time it can be really hard to connect on a deep and personal level. Intimacy involves risk. Creating the environment for trust is not easy, especially when we carry around hurts and resentments from past dealings. Human beings are flawed. Life is messy. But we all share the universal desire to love and be loved. Keep a sense of humor and don’t take yourself too seriously can be great advice. Ask Jimmy Buffet, singer and songwriter who titled one of his albums, Living and Dying in ¾ Time. It’s an album full of both lighthearted and deeply reflective songs.

Yes, that title helped inspire the name for this post. Each day we should be aware of the gift we have to be present to our lives. We are all living and dying. How we respond is way more important than how we react.

In the movie Lullaby Richard Jenkins plays a father who was given a diagnosis of six months that stretched to 12 long painful years. He wants to die with dignity and on his terms. Eventually he will, but the question becomes whether he can be allowed to choose the time.

The family dynamics with his wife, son and daughter make up much of the film’s story. I love when Jenkins’ character tells his family gathered around his hospital bed, (paraphrasing), “I love when the day comes on. Watching the sun rise. Being with you is like watching that sunrise, over and over again.”

There it is, the endless sunrise, life dawning and unfolding before us. The natural arc of the day will end in a sunset. There can be plenty of beauty in that, too. This is real life, living and dying and embracing it all. This is an appropriate sentiment on the feast day of one of the world’s greatest saints, Francis of Assisi. He knew a lot about living one day at a time and finding the sacred it every moment and every created thing. He chose a path most of us would find difficult, but it was genuine. He found the answer by letting go of selfish desires and sharing his passion for life. That was some real time living.






 

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