Carpe Diem

I took the weekend off the blog to celebrate my wife’s birthday without the sword of Shakespeare hanging over our heads… (SUCCESS), and to try and bring a measure of comfort and consolation to a friend dying in a VA hospital (FAILURE). Along the way, I thought a lot about my Shakespeare project and the reasons for pursuing it.

My friend is only 51, a veteran of Desert Storm. Over the last six months, I’ve watched helplessly as his world collapsed around him: pulled over for a minor traffic offense, being uncooperative with the officer, being accused of a narcotics violation (in what he says was retaliation), spending three months in jail during which his mortgage did not get paid, foreclosure, homelessness, and then, on top of everything else, the diagnosis of terminal cancer.

My friend is irascible, and has been since his mother put him on the bus for kindergarten. He never made it to school that day, getting into a fight with the bus driver that led to a suspension when he was only six years old. His mother tells me that’s the one constant ever since. Ricky has a knack for getting in trouble. It’s just that this time, trouble came for him, with a size and scope far beyond his abilities to cope.

I’ve never dealt with such a monolithic bureaucracy as the VA before. I don’t like hospitals generally, either as a patient or as a visitor. But as I walked the halls of the nursing home where they placed him after he was diagnosed as terminal, I couldn’t help but be saddened by the senseless final acts occurring within the “Home for Heroes.”

It was just like an ordinary hospital, only without all the joy. So many men — mostly men, of course, in that generation — who had served their country so bravely, now reduced to staring blankly at muted TV screens or sitting aimlessly in corridors waiting for visitors who never came.

Walking the halls, I was reminded of scenes from high school when I got out of class with a pass. At each doorway, I’d see faces of people caught in the distracted haze of abject boredom — girls twirling their hair, struggling to pay attention. Guys tapping their fingers or flicking their pen to an unheard drumbeat. All of them waiting for the next bell to ring, the signal to move on to whatever’s next.

It felt like these men were waiting to die. Through my own head there echoed a scene from Dead Poet Society: Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary…

Time goes so fast, like it’s on rails. It’s going to go, no matter what you do, but you might as well attempt something big while you have the chance. Make each moment count. Celebrate the little things. Tell the people you love how much you care.

It made me glad that the 48 hours preceding had been set aside for my wife. We stayed at the beach, raced gokarts, saw Avatar in 3D at IMAX. We shopped at Whole Foods and lay in bed watching the NFL playoffs (she’s a football geek, what can I say). Little things, but done with great awareness of how fleeting and ephemeral this journey is.

So if you’re out there, give a great big hug to the person closest to you. Commit yourself to doing wild, audacious things to make life better even for people you’ve never met yet. Plan tomorrow on committing a random act of kindness.

And if you read, read Shakespeare.

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3 Responses to “Carpe Diem”

  1. Linda OReilly Says:

    Amen, brother.

  2. Thanks, Linda. That was the fastest comment yet. And yes, I missed you too… 😉

  3. Wendy Says:

    It’s taken me a few years, but I’m learning. Less seizing the day, maybe, but savouring it.

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