Posts Tagged ‘mortality’

Letter From New York 06 10 15 Wow! Wow! Wow!

June 10, 2015

Today’s Letter will likely be pretty short. The time I allot in my day to write the Letter was taken up today by a task I have been attempting to avoid.

My friend, Tim Sparke, has been fighting brain cancer for two or three years now and is slowly losing the battle. He has outlived the doctors’ predictions by so much they have begun to call him their cockroach, impossible to kill. But the reality is that the horizon is very finite for Tim.

Some weeks ago, he asked me to write a piece about our friendship for a book he is compiling for his children, so they will have some sense of him when he is gone. I have dawdled on doing it because I have not wanted to really contemplate the world without Tim.

We’ve been friends for twenty years and have kept close though he and his family live in England and I am in America. His children are very young, six and eight, and their memories of him will fade. He wants them to have a sense of him as a man through the eyes of us who have known him.

It was a sad task but I have done it. I will let it sit overnight and then will edit in the morning and send it off.

It is also possible that I have hesitated writing because it brings me close to my own sense of mortality, a thing which has been growing over the last few years as I and my friends have been crossing into the third acts of our lives. Sobering thoughts, all of that…

The sun is shining today in New York, which made it easier. The grey days of the last week would have made the writing more melancholy than it was.

A year ago today, Mosul fell to IS and they are flying their blacks flags everywhere in that city today, even as they dig in for the inevitable counter-attack to wrest the city back from them. Obama has ordered 450 more advisors to Iraq to train the troops and put some metal in their backs.

War happens and life happens and cancer happens and we plow on, going through the complex motions that constitute life. What a mystery it all is.

Tim fights for his life, about to undergo a new treatment they think will give him three more months while IS occupies a swath of the world, lording over the inhabitants, making their lives mostly miserable while I sit in a sun blessed room in New York and type away.

Wow! Wow! Wow! were the words of Steve Jobs as he lay dying. Wow is right.

Letter From New York August 15, 2014

August 15, 2014

Or, as it seems to me…

It is the middle of August; you can almost touch the end of summer, a summer that has been delightful, warm but not hot, humidity low, an unusual Eastern summer. Because of a break in my schedule, I have retreated to the cottage for a few days. Waking this morning, the day had broken grey again, cool, almost chill, a day requiring a sweatshirt with the temptation of starting a fire in the wood stove to charm away the cool.

It is almost too chill for the shorts I’m wearing. And, after a little soul searching,I did decide to light a fire to charm away the cool.

This afternoon’s chore is to sort through a bunch of old papers, letters that I think date back to my college days that have somehow managed to follow me through all these years in an old wicker basket taken from the basement of my mother’s house in south Minneapolis.

It feels like a good time to cast off those memories. I have been getting my house in order; no one lives forever and I would like to not leave behind a mess. Not that I have any plans in going anywhere for awhile but we are all mortal and I’ve been feeling the winds of mortality at my back.

My good friend Tim Sparke, younger than me, is waging war with the cancers in his body, defying medical odds and doctor’s prognostications, continuing to live after a being given a six month horizon some two years ago. I received an email from him this weekend that chronicled his battles, the victories and defeats, the advances and the retreats of the long campaign since last we had communicated six months ago.

These are days of reflection, underscored and punctuated by the reality of Tim’s illness, a personal touching of mortality on my life while the whole world, it seems, ponders the seeming incomprehensibilty of Robin Williams’ death, a passing which has cast an unexpectedly large shadow over our lives.

It seemed he had always been there in the background of our lives, a manic, whirling dervish of a thousand characters that punctuated our lives. From Mork & Mindy to The Birdcage to Good Will Hunting to A Night at the Museum, he was part of the fabric of our cultural life. And he will be missed.

Letter From New York

April 2, 2012

April 2, 2012

Or, as it seems to me…


It is the Sunday evening of a dreary, chill weekend, when all the world seemed cold and darkened, a world in grief.  The wild portents of spring of a week or so ago have retreated; lost to the Queen of Winter who wants one more mad moment of sway over the world before she hibernates for another year.

Perhaps it is just the earth mourning for some reason.  It seems to be a time of mourning. A week ago my lunch was punctured with the news my friend Jim Marrinan had died.  That news was followed Tuesday by news that a neighbor of mine was in very bad shape and not expected to recover, followed by the news that another friend, a sweet, gentle man named Tim Smyth, was in intensive care at Bellevue Hospital in New York with no one sure what had happened to him nor whether he would “make it.”

He’d been found, alone, lying on a street in the West Village in New York.  It does not quite fit the mold for anything and so the NYPD has assigned a detective to the case; enough doesn’t add up that they think Tim may have been the victim of a mugging or, perhaps, a gay bashing. 

And so, I sit here on a Sunday evening attempting to pull together the mysteries of a week in which it seemed bad news cascaded.  I spoke to Tim’s sister who said, “You never know when the last normal day is going to be.”  And that has resonated so much with me this weekend as I have ruminated on life:  you do not ever know when the last normal day is going to be.

And yet we go on, living our lives while other lives end and are celebrated.  Jim has been put to rest with all the celebration he would have wanted, in a way consistent with his proud Irish heritage.  Tim lies in a hospital while surrounded by family and friends, waiting to see if he will be roused from the coma in which he rests.  Outside the hustle and bustle of the city goes on.  In another hospital my neighbor Rosemary lies, also hovering between here and the hereafter.

It is a reminder to me that I must live in the now and treasure my now because now cannot be taken for granted.  And as I grow older, and I do even while feeling as if inside I haven’t changed in twenty years and think I am still younger than I am because I do not, inside, feel old, I am growing older and my friends, my contemporaries, are dying of “natural causes.”  And while I still live with the illusion of immortality, I cannot any longer so exquisitely embrace that illusion and must make sure my affairs are in order and tidied up for those who will come after, so they are not burdened more than necessary in the stream of events.

It is all sobering and yet somehow comforting, this understanding that all is not infinite – finite is the normal.  Thousands of millions have come and gone and will come and go and life will go on while we are remembered after our passing by those who loved us.  The Egyptians had a phrase:  to speak the name of the dead is to make them live again.  No wonder the Pharaohs worked so hard to be remembered.  Few of us will have that resonance but all of us will be remembered and our names will be spoken by those who loved us.  And the love we give will shape those around us so that goodness and kindness will whisper down the generational trails even after names are forgotten.

God said:  go forth and multiply.  I think He meant not just in numbers but also in deeds and so may all of us go forth and multiply our good deeds so that the memories of us are carried by the winds even to those who do not know our names.