Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Carpe Diem

Take a moment. Breathe. Experience an instant (or several) of simply being. Here. Now. Because that's all we have -- nows. (And heres.)

And in the now in which you currently find yourself, think of something you have been putting off. Something you've been meaning to do but haven't gotten to it because "life interfered." Something good for yourself, or for your family, or your friends or your community -- local to global. Doesn't have to be a huge thing. It could be using kiva.org to lend $50 or $100 to a third world entrepreneur. Maybe it's calling your grandmother or going to yoga or starting bridge lessons.

In the next now that comes along, either do that thing or make a plan to.

Why? Because every thing that has a beginning has an end. Our allotment of nows and heres is limited. The ration of time set aside for my dear friend and neighbor Bill McLeod has ended, suddenly, and far sooner than any who knew him wanted.

Bill had been in ill health due to anemia caused by myelodysplasia for some months now, requiring almost weekly transfusions to maintain something even approaching a normal level of energy. (Myelodysplasia prevents the marrow from making enough red blood cells.) After Bill's wife died of cancer two and a half years ago, we tried to make sure Bill had some fun: we took him to shows and such and often had him to dinner, especially when he became sick himself. When he cooks, Bob likes to leave enough for leftovers, so we'd call and like as not, he'd come and share our platter of barbecued chicken or lamb chops or sole. I remembered how much it meant to my mom when -- coming home after a long day helping my dad in the family business, plus running her own -- she would pull into the driveway and see our neighbor, Mrs. Gundlach, beckoning my mom from her kitchen window. She'd have made too much of something (which happened most nights -- her name is Gundlach, after all) and would we like to come over and help her get rid of it?

Bob said it was a mitzvah -- we were doing something good for someone. A somewhat less than random act of kindness.

After dinner, we'd often watch a DVD. Bill worked in publicity for independent films, so he'd have DVDs of interesting small films, or interesting things to say about the more widely-distributed movies we'd watch. We'd talk about what was up with his daughter, Alanna. She just got engaged, and was planning a wedding at some vague future date (her fiance is still in vet school), until a co-worker convinced her to enter a radio contest called "Bliss or Diss." One person wins a wedding (bliss), the other wins a vacation to get away after dumping their onetime squeeze (diss). Yes, Alanna won -- which meant the bonus of having a 150-person wedding paid for, but also meant her wedding date was fixed. May 17. Knowing that Bill was sick, I thought maybe a little haste wouldn't be a bad thing. I never expected even that wasn't fast enough for Bill.

Which brings us back to you. And my admonition to look for the joy in your life and embrace it. Because it's fleeting, life.

One of my favorite movies is "Groundhog Day." The Bill Murray pic where he relives the same day over and over, seemingly for a near-eternity. An initial shock is followed by a predictable indulging of all passions once he discovers he has the information needed to get away with almost anything. Except with Andie McDowell's character. She won't fall in love with him. No matter what approach he tries, what skill he acquires to seduce her. It's only when he stops trying to impress and decides to simply be himself that she finally falls for him. And the clock radio finally gets unstuck and plays something besides "I Got You Babe."

Bill learns that ultimately he has to be his authentic self, because time is limitless. The lesson for us is that just the opposite is true: we might as well be who we are, at our core, because time is limited.

So go, be good to yourself. Or to someone else. Or both.

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