My dad sits at the table with his half-eaten lukewarm scrambled eggs in front of him in an environment almost reminiscent of a diner on a Sunday morning or perhaps a restaurant bustling from the incentive of an early bird special.
However, this is not a restaurant, this is an assisted living facility that is now the place he calls home. It is tough for him having spent sixty-one years with my mother in his own home but the dementia that has stricken him physically and mentally has made it necessary for him to live in a place where he can properly be cared for. Although he still has his sharp wit and biting sense of humor, he often forgets which family member has since passed or if he has already eaten his lunch. I am thankful that he never forgets my name and more importantly, he knows who I am; which could be considered quite a feat by some considering I am a twin and I am just one of his four sons. He laments that he wants to go home and somewhat sarcastically remarks, "Oy, I am dying." I remind him that we are all dying but we are all living too.
It's now Wednesday morning and with a Bluetooth nestled in my ear, my car rushes down Route 95 toward my office to get me to a 9:00 am meeting. My mother and I discuss the morning's doctor appointment where she will be considering her plans for removing the stage 1 cancer from her lungs. In a matter-of-fact-manner, we reflect on the possibility that the disease may have stemmed from her years of smoking cigarettes, although one has not touched her lips in over thirty years; however, we both conclude that this piece of information is essentially moot.
She tells me that she is optimistic of the outcome because that cancer was caught early and seems confined to a single location. A full recovery is a realistic and extremely plausible scenario. She then tells me, either way she is thankful for the years she has had. Ah, an epiphany for me. Perhaps I have discovered where my affinity toward spirituality and my sometimes shaky yet eternal belief that things happen for a reason. Its origins are something about which I've often wondered. We both agree that if it is six months, six years, or sixty years, (well, probably not sixty years as that kind of time is left for those much younger than both of us), there is nothing to do but deal with what is before us today. The conversation quickly moves toward the logistics for the big weekend family event that will include catching up with out of town family members, dancing, celebrating, and of course the continual flowing of champagne. She says she feels fine and will attend the event regardless of her current circumstance. She tells me she is very appreciative of the outpouring of offers for help and sympathy that she has received from so many, yet I sense perhaps she would prefer to focus on continuing to live for today and proactively deal with the challenge before her than receive assistance or pity from others. She says, at least out loud, that she is not interested in bemoaning her situation or feeling sorry for herself. We agree that kind of reaction wouldn't help anyone.
After our conversation ended and I tapped the little button on my Bluetooth device, I was reminded of the school superintendent in my hometown of Robbinsville NJ, who was struck and killed by a motor vehicle just a month ago. He was neither sick nor stricken with any diseases. He was a very fit young man of fifty-two with a family and long life ahead of him. A tragic and freak accident took his life. I would imagine that he was not thinking about assisted living facilities or plans for chemotherapy, or surgery. He was simply living a vibrant and fulfilling life where he made a difference every day to so many young people including my own boys.
So, like a cold splash of water to our face, life again reminds us of its ephemeral and impertinent nature. Similar to the way my father's grumble that he is dying brings out in me an alarm clock-like response that reminds me, that we are all dying. But it also reminds us that we are living too. It reminds us of the special moments that happen every day that both my mother and father still can appreciate. Whether it's the smile from a grandchild, a beautiful sunset, or something as mundane as lukewarm scrambled eggs; these are all the things that bring us joy and remind that there is still today to appreciate them. I know that it reminds me to kiss my wife good night, hug my two tail-wagging dogs, and not to accept a simple "good" from my son as his response to my question of how school was today. So keep your eyes peeled for the simple yet profound moments in life to remind us of all that is wonderful in this existence. Let's not rely so heavily on the earth-shattering events to awaken us from the mechanical slumber that can sometimes pervasively control our lives. Let's all remember to live in this moment and celebrate life because while my father is right that we are all dying, at least for today, we are all living too.
In my last blog post, I Was Called a Poet, I described a wonderful experience I had on a writing and spiritual retreat. Many of my readers have asked that I share the beautiful poetry that was created on that day. Click here to read the extraordinary pieces of work.