À la Recherche de Temps Précieux

ironicI have been in search of precious time recently — not temps perdu, like Proust obsessing over his madeleines.  I have no need of seven volumes of rememebrances of things past right now — though the irony of that will soon become clear.

Rather, I am in fervent, life-affirming need of the present.

I’m not entirely sure how many times I’ve begun composing this post or some version of it in my head over the past few weeks, but I’ve finally figured out that I simply need to put fingers to keys and write — honestly, and hopefully positively — about something significant that is affecting my life.

So here it is: my Dad has been diagnosed with dementia.

I have mentioned my father was experiencing significant health issues in a post once before, and vaguely alluded to it as well, but lately I have discovered that not writing about it openly has been stopping me from writing here at all. It’s not like I’ve had any kind of writer’s block (mostly because I arrogantly refuse to entertain the possibilty that such a thing will ever beset me), or that I have lacked material I thought worthy of sharing. I’ve happily written articles and press releases for clients, and finished off pieces of fiction I started years ago — and even had the temerity to share some of them with an audience.

But my reluctance to write about Dad’s dementia has resulted in the longest hiatus I’ve ever had from this small patch of cyberspace I call my own, and it’s time I changed that in the best way I know how.

I don’t want this to turn into one long whinge about how much it sucks that my Dad — my incredibly intelligent, erudite, articulate and energetic father — has an incurable condition, so I’ve decided that this will be the first in a series of posts I want to categorise under Travels with The Professor.

lionMy hope is that these posts, whenever I feel the need to write them, will celebrate the man who helped raise me, of all that he was and all that he still is.  I imagine I might want to share things that he’s taught me and encouraged me to appreciate, and to make sense of what I’m learning about him and myself as we journey down this one way street, not knowing how long we have together, or how long he will know we are on the path with him.  I don’t want to eulogise him, though I am fully aware that I will probably end up mytholigising at times — because that’s what Dads are for: they are the mightiest of lions, the leaders of the pride, the ones we look up to.

So I invite you to join me, if you’re willing, and we’ll both see where these rambling Travels with The Professor take us.

 

Life Is A Funny

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This is not my aunt: she would have had at least three blankets.

Life is a funny.

I’ve used this phrase as a tag in a few posts before, but never explained exactly where it came from. So sit back, relax, and I’ll tell you the tale.

Many years ago, my aunt attended a course on Taoism.  She and a group of other students, eager to unravel the mysteries of The Way (or maybe the universe, or human consciousness, or life, or all or any of the above), gathered weekly to hear the words of their teacher — who in my mind’s eye I have always pictured as a wizened and possibly sparsely bearded old man of Asian origin, seated serenely above his students, imparting his esoteric knowledge.

I don’t know if that’s what he really looked like. All I can really remember with any veracity about the story of my aunt’s Tao lessons was that the room in which they were held in was completely and utterly freezing. Positively Arctic. I can’t quite recall if there was a small and ineffective electric radiator involved, but I do know that my aunt would sit with her fellow truth-seekers, shivering beneath a blanket, listening to her Tao teacher speak.

And one day, when that Tao teacher was asked a particularly difficult question — I’m not certain exactly what that question was, but it may have had something to do with the nature of suffering, or whether there is life after death, or what the surest path to enlightenment might be, or perhaps even why the room was so ridiculously cold — the old man paused, and for a few moments he said nothing at all.

But when he spoke again, he answered with this phrase:

Life is a funny.

Just like that.

little things

Life is a funny…and it’s the little things that sometimes count for the most.

He didn’t say, “Life is funny”, nor did he suggest that “Life is a funny thing“.  Rather, he said that “Life is a funny”.

And ever since then, when anyone in our family has encountered something mystical, or unexpected, or insurmountable, or baffling, we have returned to my aunt’s Tao teacher’s simple (though admittedly unusual) phrase:

Life is a funny.

Because, when you think about it, life really is a funny. There are many things we can’t explain or begin to comprehend during our time on this Earth: from uncanny coincidences, to sudden and unspeakable tragedies, to moments of transcendent and miraculous grace, and to each and every instance of serendipity.

I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately, not least because our family is setting out on a journey into the unknown with my dear Dad, who is experiencing some significant health issues at the moment. We don’t know what the future will hold — we never do, never can and never will. The only certainty, as always and for all of us, is that the journey will end with the final step every human being must take.

I’m not intending to be at all fatalistic, here — far from it. If anything, discovering that my father is ill has brought life and all that is important to me into sharp focus, and I’m grateful for that clarity, harsh though its light might be. Because despite the ultimate inevitability of death, I think the essential thing to remember is that we can embrace life, with all its weirdness and wonder and pain and joy.  To recognise that despite the monotony or banality we occasionally ascribe to our existences, our lives are perhaps much more eventful (and delightfully so) than we think they are. To know that it doesn’t hurt to keep hoping for the best of the unexpected, even if we don’t always get it.

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This little, ephemeral, life…

Life is transient, and it is also far more ephemeral and fragile than we sometimes allow ourselves remember. But accepting and absorbing this unadorned truth somehow enables us to strip away the superfluous and to focus on what really matters, what makes us who we are at the very core of our beings.

I don’t believe the response to life demanded by such an acceptance to be as simple as “it is what it is”, though I have been known to use that phrase often — sometimes ridiculously so. I have come to realise that these words only indicate a level of understanding, but they fail to communicate a sense of engagement.

I do believe, however, that living life fully requires making considered choices about how we spend our time.  I’ve written before about the challenge of living creatively, of becoming human beings rather than humans doing, and I suspect facing up to the inevitability of our mortality demands a direct and deliberate response from each of us — a response that is as fiercely positive as we can muster.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not trying to turn everyone in my acquaintance into a parade of Pollyannas singing Que Sera, Sera in the face of the slightest adversity. All I’m suggesting is that we use this fleeting time we have together to the best of our abilities, to live in alignment with whatever First Principles guide us, to be our best selves.

Much of life is unpredictable. Parts of it are downright incomprehensible. But it is also, sometimes, miraculous. And it is always — always — mutable.

And that’s why, in the face of ever-changing circumstances, I choose to draw comfort from the curious words of an old Taoist:

Life is a funny.