"I mean whatever kills you kills you, and your death is authentic no matter how you die." ---Jerry Garcia
I have had a few scrapes with the whole mortality thing over the years, and recently, the tapping on the shoulder by the grim reaper has been getting a little heavy-handed. You learn to live with that Sword of Damocles that hangs over each of us, and you have no choice but to move forward. Life goes on. But when the tapping gets heavy, if you are me, you have to step back and take inventory on what the tap tap tap really means.
To give you some context in how I am wired, over the years I have consistently sought out spiritual counsel. The best and most honest assessment that my rational mind can wrap its head around is from my Buddhist brethren. "There is one constant sure bet in this life, you will die," a Roshi impressed upon me a few years back. Re-incarnation, heaven and hell, 72 virgins, etc., life after death, it's all a bit much for my sensible self. Another Buddhist quote that comes to mind is that "Everything is created and destroyed." Again, I can wrap my head around that because I see and experience that theme each day, in everything. As a former altar boy in my youth, the seedlings and training of the Roman Catholic Church are still alive and well inside me, too, but I had a spiritual wanderlust as a young lad and needed to explore life's purpose via diverse sources.
The wanderlust started early as a young teen in South Florida. Death was the furthest thing from my mind. I started reading the works of Dostoyevsky, Kant,Buber, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Nietzsche, Rollo May, Huxley, etc. Great existential thinkers and storytellers. Enter the mystics of the east Meher Baba, J. Krishnamurti, Bhagavad Gita, Ramakrishna, Paramahansa Yogananda, Muktananda, and a variety of Zen masters and yogis.
All the reading was great, but I wanted and needed some practical application of what I was learning from the these folks. After high school, as I was considering joining the U.S. Air Force (my father and I actually met with an Air Force recruiter) at the 11th hour I went with my spiritual leanings and enrolled in college. Lo and behold, as I start school, I discover a teacher and professor who is speaking my philosophical language. I spend the next three years up at 5 a.m. meditating and same drill 7 p.m. each night. This was my spiritual boot camp.
As I took inventory in these meditation sessions over the years I realized I had a strong pull to start a family and get a little more worldly. I did that with a great woman and mother as we raised two wonderful children. Life and responsibilities take over as you build a family, but I never let my spiritual and philosophical leanings get too far away.
As the cycle of "everything is created and destroyed" took hold over the years, I learned to flow with it, whether I liked it or not. I learned some painful lessons, pain being the operative term. Physical, emotional, you name it. I did not medicate it or mask it with mass quantities of alcohol and drugs. I learned to just be with it. Examine it. Embrace it. Sit with it and examine its origins. Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun and spiritual teacher, has been a great resource and inspiration as has my Catholic up-bringing (St. John of the Cross and many others) and the life and words of Paramahansa Yogananda.
The "creation and destruction" theme took on a new and more pronounced tone June 3, 2012, in New York City. I was up early ready for my 6:30 a.m. tennis workout in Central Park. It was a beautiful Sunday morning. I would bike from 55th and 10th to the courts in 15 minutes. I take my turn off of Amsterdam onto W. 62nd Street (between Fordham Law School and Lincoln Center) and I hear a car behind me and it seems too close. The next thing I know I am in intensive care in Roosevelt Hospital with fractures in all the wrong places (skull and torso).
How I arrived at the hospital is one of those miracles of life. I was out cold and then came to in a complete daze. I remember nothing. By the grace of God my subconscious or some other heavenly force deposited this bag of bones inside the Roosevelt Hospital front door. As I came to, it sounded like brain surgery was on tap for the breakfast entertainment, to stop the bleeding on the brain. I said to myself, "Is this how this story ends?" The team at Roosevelt worked their magic (along with a little more divine intervention as the bleeding on the brain stopped) and I was released in a few days with six months of rehab ahead of me.
Fast-forward to January 2015. The body is starting to break down in ways I am having a tough time accepting. Accepting was never a strong suit of mine. I have prided myself in living a macrobiotic lifestyle (with lapses) with the thinking that lifestyle discipline would shelter me from diseases and conditions I would never want to come into contact with. Genes trump lifestyle I guess. A doctor told me yesterday without my lifestyle choices I would have been long gone years ago.
Ever onward. Embrace what life brings you. Roshi said, there is one constant in this life, "you are going to die." Whatever. I will do it my way. I always have.