The Intensity of an Unfettered Soul

I will be the first to admit, I have always been a prideful man. I am proud of my family, my friends, the capabilities and potentials they have, the things they’ve done, who they are. There are far worse things to be prideful about, but nevertheless it is just as bad as any other thing to be proud of: it creates the illusion of merit based acceptance, instead of accepting purely for the sake of acceptance.

I visited my grandmother today, a woman whom has done more in her life than most. She raised five children, traveled the globe, embroiled herself in community projects, and otherwise occupied herself with always something. She is extremely intelligent, with a degree from Radcliffe; if one were to try to think of an example to sum up the type of person she is, I would recall that she gave my father permission to marry my mother because he managed to beat her at Scrabble. She could do the New York Times crossword puzzle in under an hour (and would do so, regularly).

She is now 90, half paralyzed, and bed-ridden. Her mental facilities (in particular her short term memory) have eroded because of this, and I am simultaneously furious and upset to see her like this.

Fear has been called the little death; the larger death is time. We decry lengthy deaths and torture, and yet accept that time kills us one second at a time, for our entire lives. It is not abrupt, it is not clean and painless, it is lengthy and often times painful, removing our strength, our stamina, our mental acuity, like a game of Jenga, seeing just how many of our fundamental faculties it can remove before we fall.

We are intelligent people — my writing is generally a bit too dense for the random cursory reader (this is not to say that it is GOOD writing, or even all that articulate, a distinction I wish more academic writers would understand), so I am sure that this will come as no surprise to most of you, and perhaps you even share this conviction: I would rather die young with my mental acuity intact to the very end than die unable to remember who I am. There have been times where I have felt that my intellect (which when juxtaposed against any of the true thinkers of the world is a meager thing indeed) is the ONLY thing I had going for me. Needless to say, the thought of losing that one thing is… well, I’ll say “troubling” and leave it at that.

It is a sobering experience to witness first-hand as someone goes through this, and my reaction right now is that we are given so much time in life, nothing is permanent, and as such stop worrying about so much about leaving a mark, something to be remembered by, and simply live. Appreciate what you have while you have it, because tomorrow it will be gone. This is not strictly hedonistic; I’m not saying go cheat on your significant other, I’m not saying start partaking in various illicit drugs, I’m not saying stop trying. I’m saying appreciate every minute of it, even the painful ones, even the unhappy ones. Savor it, the pain and the joy, and appreciate who you share it with. This isn’t rocket science, and in fact many of my friends (my brother included) have been saying it for quite some time. I’ve understood it for quite a while, but sometimes, some things just need to be said.

7 thoughts on “The Intensity of an Unfettered Soul

  1. Bil, apart from wanting to cry after reading this :P it was a great post. it is incredible how impermanent life is. We think we’re immortal not just because you can’t picture our own death but because we don’t realize that we start loosing everything we have, sight, hearing, memory, mobility. I deffinetly agree that I would rather die with my sanity than without it. Living to 90 would be fun but only if i knew who i was. I’m sorry you have to watch someone close to you go through this.

  2. AMEN, Bil! That’s more or less the way I strive to live my life… in that place. Love to you and your family during this time.

  3. [April 19 11:25pm] God, I love living.

    Subtract three hours of difference from Eastern to Pacific time gives me 8:25pm. Only two hours of time between your post and my saying that.

    I hadn’t read the post until now. Are we on the same wavelength, Nabil?

  4. Nabil,
    This was wonderful, and something that I’ve often tried to express myself, but unfortunatly, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do it as eloquently as you have.


  5. Hi, Nabil.
    I empathize with your feelings for your grandmother having seen a similar deterioration in my mother’s mental capabilities. She started losing her short term memory when she was in her late sixties and it continued inexorably until her death at the age of 84. I’ve observed my own short term memory starting to fail and am at turns bemused, frustrated or angry. I seem to be on the same path as my mother and don’t really enjoy the prospect. I’ll joke that my memory stack is down to a single entry but, at times, it seems like there are no entries available at all.
    I do find myself following your advice and appreciating people and things more. I do wish I could spend more time with you and Mickey but distance and obligations mitigate against that. I’ll settle for the times that we have and will be able to share in the future, however long that is.
    I very much appreciate the time spent with my grandchildren (even diapering) and I hope that they’ll remember the time and love that I gave to them. The most spiritual part of my day is when I have Sabrina or Nikhil alseep in my arms and am holding them as close as I can for as long as I can.
    My parents took two different routes toward their ultimate ends. My mother was generally healthy until the last couple of years but her short term memory was gone — a danger whenever she went to drive. My father’s mental capabilities remained strong until the day he died but he suffered from heart and vascular disease for the last twenty years of his life, due in large part to smoking and poor diet. He had to endure seeing his world limited mostly to the confines of his three room condo knowing that his high blood pressure was destroying his kidneys, his femoral artery blockage prevented him from walking more than a few feet, and there was nothing he could do to about it. He may have wished for a poor memory so that every day was not a reminder of his physical deterioration.
    Savor all aspects of life, I agree. There is no afterlife that we can depend on.

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