Jolly on Hold

As much as I hate to go negative at the holiday season, please bear with me while I put my jolly on hold for this week and do a bit of philosophizing. This won’t take long, I promise you, and then you can get back to holiday cheer, peace on earth, goodwill toward men, and all that other holly jolly jazz.

Lately I’ve attended two funerals, which are two more than I would have liked to attend. The last one was just this past week when a long-time friend of my wife’s suddenly died while standing at the sink washing dishes in her home. She went fast. She wasn’t sick, she didn’t have a disease; she just fell over dead. She did have a minor issue with her heart earlier in the year, but she was on medication and everyone thought it had been taken care of. Clearly it wasn’t.

The temptation is to say, “Well, thank goodness she didn’t suffer a lingering illness,” which is true. Unlike what so many other people have to go through, she was spared the agony of a prolonged hospital stay complete with modern medicine’s torturous testing, probing, and procedures. Yes, she escaped that and she never knew what hit her. That’s the good news.

The bad news is … she never knew what hit her. She woke up that morning just as she had all her life, everything was fine, she started her day just as she had for years. It was another nice November morning and then … providence cold-cocked her. She never saw it coming. Wham! Here today, gone in an instant. Finished.

It’s no good either way. To die in pain over an extended period of time is horrible. To slowly wither away from disease is horrible. But isn’t it also rather sad when you die out of a clear blue sky, feeling relatively fine and believing that you have more time left on your parking meter? When you die after having a fatal illness people say “At least he’s not suffering any more.” But if you die for what seems like no reason at all, then it’s kind of like a cruel joke.

For more than 22 years my wife met her friend every Wednesday for lunch or sometimes for breakfast. They’d get together to do a little shopping, a lot of chatting, and occasionally a bit of commiserating. They weren’t alike in many ways, but they were very good friends. They both loved reading, plants, and music. They swapped books, they swapped life experiences, and they k’vetshed about the world. They laughed, and they cried. Every week for 22 years.

As usual, my wife saw her friend this past Wednesday and went to breakfast at one of their favorite spots. They loved this place, known for their terrific waffles served with hot syrup and melted butter along with eggs, but they didn’t go there as often as they would have liked – much too fattening. “What the heck. Life is too short. Let’s just go and do it this week.” So they went and ate a wonderful breakfast. Friday morning my wife’s friend was gone.

After living for almost 65 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that being alive is better than being dead. Now, granted, I could be wrong about this, I have been wrong about a whole lot of stuff in the past, so this could be just another case of my not knowing what the heck I’m talking about. I may find out for sure someday one way or the other, but right now, I’ll take life.

Life has it over death in so many ways. Take the senses for example. No smelling fresh baked bread when you’re dead. No seeing sunsets when you’re dead. No hearing beautiful music. No tasting ice cream. No touching the soft skin of a baby. No nothing. Now maybe we get other senses given to us in the next world, senses that are even better than our human ones. Maybe. But until that time, shouldn’t we enjoy the humble five we have now?

“Living life to the fullest” is one of those trite expressions that can really mean anything or nothing. In fact, we need to appreciate life first before we can actually enjoy it. Sure, try to eat right, don’t abuse your body, guard yourself against disease, drive carefully, wear a coat when it’s cold, use sun screen, stay in bed when you’re sick, and drink lots of liquids. Be smart about your health.

But in doing all of the above, don’t forget to LIVE, too. It’s okay to have a drink now and then if you want it. Stay up late and party now and then. It’s fine to be decadent every once in awhile. Don’t wait to go somewhere you’ve always wanted to go to, just go. Do it while you can still do it. Buy that crazy outfit. Go out for dinner more. Smoke a cigar. And eat that waffle with hot syrup and melted butter. You’re alive, act like it.