I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective

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Oliver Sacks: My Own Life. Learning of Terminal Cancer

…It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can…

…While I have enjoyed loving relationships and friendships and have no real enmities, I cannot say (nor would anyone who knows me say) that I am a man of mild dispositions. On the contrary, I am a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions.

I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night…

I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

…Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

Don’t miss reading the full essay by Oliver Sachs: My Own Life. Learning of Terminal Cancer


Notes:

I find them evenly lit

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NY Times: Mark Strand, 80, Dies; Pulitzer-Winning Poet Laureate:

Mark Strand, whose spare, deceptively simple investigations of rootlessness, alienation and the ineffable strangeness of life made him one of America’s most hauntingly meditative poets, died on Saturday at his daughter’s home in Brooklyn. He was 80. Mr. Strand, who was named poet laureate of the United States in 1990 and awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1999 for his collection “Blizzard of One,” made an early impression with short, often surreal lyric poems that imparted an unsettling sense of personal dislocation — what the poet and critic Richard Howard called “the working of the divided self.”…“He is not a religious poet on the face of it, but he fits into a long tradition of meditation and contemplation,” said David Kirby…He makes you see how trivial the things of this world are, and how expansive the self is, once you unhook it from flat-screen TVs and iPhones.” Reading Mr. Strand, he said, “We learn what a big party solitude is.”…To critics who complained that his poems, with their emphasis on death, despair and dissolution, were too dark, he replied, “I find them evenly lit.”

He has too many favorite poems to share…so I have shared links to short excerpts, morsels, to enable you to feel the genius of this man.

  • Luminism: “And though it was brief, and slight, and nothing / To have been held onto so long, I remember it…”
  • Black Maps: “…A scar remembers the wound.” 
  • The Guardian: Why do I love what fades?”
  • The Triumph of the Infinite“All I could hear was my heart pumping and pumping.”
  • The Coming of Light: “..Even this late it happens: the coming of love, the coming of light.”
  • Dark Harbor: “…Sending up stars of salt, loud clouds of spume.”
  • The Continuous Life: “…You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing / To prove you existed.”
  • Not Dying: “…On windless summer nights I feel those kisses…”
  • Sleeping With One Eye Open: “…We all have reasons for moving. I move to keep things whole.”
  • Lines for Winter: “…Tell yourself in that final flowing of cold through your limbs that you love what you are.” 
  • The Remains: “…The hours have done their job. I say my own name. I say goodbye.”

Credits: Photo – jrbenjamin.com

They bust you by being grateful for the day

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The worst possible thing you can do when you’re down in the dumps, tweaking, vaporous with victimized self-righteousness, or bored, is to take a walk with dying friends. They will ruin everything for you.

First of all, friends like this may not even think of themselves as dying, although they clearly are, according to recent scans and gentle doctors’ reports. But no, they see themselves as fully alive. They are living and doing as much as they can, as well as they can, for as long as they can.

They ruin your multitasking high, the bath of agitation, rumination, and judgment you wallow in, without the decency to come out and just say anything. They bust you by being grateful for the day, while you are obsessed with how thin your lashes have become and how wide your bottom.

~ Anne Lamott, “Prelude: Victory Lap“, Small Victories: Spotting Improbably Moments of Grace


Notes: Quote Source – Brainpickings. Portrait: Kamil Zacharski by Opaqueglitter


 

R.I.P. Birdie

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This morning, I shared a gif of a parrot taking a shower.

I then check my emails and receive this message, the first of the day.

Good morning. I am very sorry to tell you that Birdie passed away this morning. She had been just fine until about 6 months ago when she began having occasional seizures. We are assuming she had one last night. Jessica found her at the bottom of the cage this morning and it seemed like she was hanging on for her to get home. She died shortly after Jessica picked her up. She spent most of every day on Jessica’s shoulder or inside her shirt during the winter months. Jessica is devastated. She lost her best animal friend.

In case you missed the original post on the background of Birdie and our family, you can find it here: “I Miss Birdie.”

Sad Day. Yet, what incredible joy this little creature brought to our family.

RIP Birdie.

All the variety,
all the charm,
all the beauty of life
is made up of light and shadow.

~ Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina


 

Lighting a little dark as I go

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“The temptation is to make an idol of our own experience, to assume our pain is more singular than it is. Even here, in some of the entries above, I see that I have fallen prey to it. In truth, experience means nothing if it does not mean beyond itself: we mean nothing unless and until our hard-won meanings are internalized and catalyzed within the lives of others. There is something I am meant to see, something for which my own situation and suffering are the lens, but the cost of such seeing — I am just beginning to realize — may very well be any final clarity or perspective on my own life, my own faith. That would not be a bad fate, to burn up like the booster engine that falls aways from the throttling rocket, lighting a little dark as I go.”

~ Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

On the afternoon of his 39th birthday, less than a year after his wedding day, poet Christian Wiman was diagnosed with an incurable cancer of the blood. Wiman had long ago drifted away from the Southern Baptist beliefs of his upbringing. But the shock of staring death in the face gradually revived a faith that had gone dormant. Wiman’s book of essays, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer took shape in the wake of his diagnosis, when he believed death could be fast approaching. These writings come from someone who is less a cautious theologian than a pilgrim crying out from the depths. They divulge the God-ward hopes (and doubts) of an artist still piecing together a spiritual puzzle. San Francisco-based lawyer and author Josh Jeter corresponded with Wiman about his new book, his precarious health, and the ongoing challenge of belief in God. (Source: CT)


Notes:

 

Memorial Day

breeze, France,

~ Mary Elizabeth Frye


Mary Elizabeth Frye (1905 – 2004) was an American housewife and florist, best known as the author of the poem “Do not stand at my grave and weep,” written in 1932.  She was born in Dayton, Ohio, and was orphaned at the age of three. The poem for which she became famous was originally composed on a brown paper shopping bag, and was reportedly inspired by the story of a young Jewish girl, Margaret Schwarzkopf, who had been staying with the Frye household and had been unable to visit her dying mother in Germany because of anti-Semitic unrest.


Credits: Photography – thefujifreak. Poem – Decorated Skin

So you want to live forever

 

Aubrey-de-Grey

From The Weekly Standard: So You Want to Live Forever:

Aubrey de Grey, 51, is the man who insists that within a few decades technology will enable us human beings to beat death and live forever. “Someone is alive right now who is going to live to be 1,000 years old.” 

The British-born de Grey, with a doctorate in biology from Cambridge, is also the single most colorful figure in the living-forever movement, where colorful figures generously abound. “I look as though I’m in my 30s,” he informed me…And maybe he does look that young, but it’s hard to tell, because his waist-length, waterfall-style beard​—​a de Grey trademark​—​gives him the look of an extremely spry Methuselah, who, according to the Bible, made it only to 969 years.

De Grey is actually of the phenotype Ageless British Eccentric: English Rose cheeks, piercing blue eyes, and someone-please-make-him-a-sandwich slenderness; his tomato-red shirt and gray slacks hang from angular shoulders and legs. Bony frames that verge on gauntness are a hallmark of the living-forever movement, most of whose members hew to severe dietary restrictions in order to prolong their lives while they wait for science to catch up with death. De Grey, by contrast, claims to eat whatever he likes and also to drink massive quantities of carb-loaded English ale, working it all off by punting on the River Cam in the four months a year he spends doing research back at Cambridge.

De Grey subscribes to the reigning theory of the live-forever movement: that aging, the process by which living things ultimately wear themselves out and die, isn’t an inevitable part of the human condition. Instead, aging is just another disease, not really different in kind from any of the other serious ailments, such as heart failure or cancer, that kill us. And as with other diseases, de Grey believes that aging has a cure or series of cures that scientists will eventually discover…

Read more at The Weekly Standard: So You Want To Live Forever

 


Image: DIYTheme.com

Something, something, something

Peter-Matthiessen

“How does that happen?” Matthiessen asked me rhetorically, posing the question of the novel. He referred back to the novel’s epigraph, a poem by Anna Akhmatova that wonders, when we are surrounded by so much death, “Why then do we not despair?” Matthiessen looked at me, eyes dancing, beating on his leg in time as he said, “Something, something, something,” unable to name the mysterious life force that allows us to rejoice…

~ Jeff Himmelman


Peter Matthiessen, 86, died last night.  R.I.P.

The quote above is an excerpt from Himmelman’s April 3, 2014 NY Times Magazine article titled Peter Matthiessen’s Homegoing.

From today’s front page story in the NY Times Peter Matthiessen, Lyrical Writer and Naturalist, Is Dead at 86:

“Zen is really just a reminder to stay alive and to be awake,” he told the British newspaper The Guardian in 2002. “We tend to daydream all the time, speculating about the future and dwelling on the past. Zen practice is about appreciating your life in this moment. If you are truly aware of five minutes a day, then you are doing pretty well. We are beset by both the future and the past, and there is no reality apart from the here and now.”

Wiki Bio:

Matthiessen was an American novelist, naturalist, and wilderness writer. He was a three-time National Book Award-winner for The Snow Leopard and Shadow Country. He was also a prominent environmental activist.  According to critic Michael Dirda, “No one writes more lyrically [than Matthiessen] about animals or describes more movingly the spiritual experience of mountaintops, savannas, and the sea.”

Matthiessen’s new book, In Paradise, is scheduled for release on April 8, 2014.


Blue

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Image Credit (Penguins mourning death of their child)

Now you are here, at 7:43. Now you are here, at 7:44. Now you are…

philip-seymour-hoffman
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
[over radio]

Millicent Weems: What was once before you – an exciting, mysterious future – is now behind you. Lived; understood; disappointing. You realize you are not special. You have struggled into existence, and are now slipping silently out of it. This is everyone’s experience. Every single one. The specifics hardly matter. Everyone’s everyone. So you are Adele, Hazel, Claire, Olive. You are Ellen. All her meager sadnesses are yours; all her loneliness; the gray, straw-like hair; her red raw hands. It’s yours. It is time for you to understand this.

Millicent Weems: Walk.

Millicent Weems: As the people who adore you stop adoring you; as they die; as they move on; as you shed them; as you shed your beauty; your youth; as the world forgets you; as you recognize your transience; as you begin to lose your characteristics one by one; as you learn there is no-one watching you, and there never was, you think only about driving – not coming from any place; not arriving any place. Just driving, counting off time. Now you are here, at 7:43. Now you are here, at 7:44. Now you are…

Millicent Weems: Gone.


In memory Philip Seymour Hoffman (July 23,1967 – February 2, 2014)


Credits: Image.  Script: Schonweider from the Movie “Synecdoche, New York” available at Amazon here.