gatineau morning.

gatineau morning.
photo by douglas mcarthur.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


     i'm very cognizant of the fact that i write a lot about growing old. some have even said i'm obsessed with death and dying, which is ridiculous. i'm obsessed with life so i write about death.
     my old dad liked to say that his days were filled by a constant struggle just to stay alive, with a few nice dinners in-between. it certainly seems to me, as friends and acquaintances drop like flies around me, that one should not take this precious gift of life for granted. if there's anything, absolutely anything, one wants to do, one should not wait too long. whatever is on ones bucket list should be scratched off methodically even if, and this is radical, you're very young.
     the uncomfortable situation i find myself in presently is that i can't think of anything, absolutely anything, i still want to do. i have no bucket list. i've travelled enough, i'm not gonna leap from a plane, no interest in bungee jumping, safaris are of no interest and i'm sure as hell not going on another cruise. i'm perfectly happy at home. this is my himalayan cave, my tibetan monastery, my jesuit retreat center.
     some of my loyal readers, assuming there are any, may conclude that i'm fortunate to have so few if any unfulfilled desires. nothing could be further from the truth. they cannot understand how unsettling it is to be growing old without a bucket list. the question begs asking: what the fark is there left to live for in my case(?) what the fark is there left to strive for, to produce, to achieve(?)
     ramana maharshi says: "once, i was shocked by an overwhelming fear of death. but, then in a flash i asked myself if i am this body and do i die when it dies(?) or am i the life that transcends the body and lives on eternally(?)" swami shyamji asks: "are you aware of your body, mind, ego when in deep sleep? where is the whole manifest world at that time? yet you don't doubt your existence."  
     i know about letting go. i know about relaxation, well-being, even self-knowledge. i know we are waves upon one ocean of life. i get that. what i don't know is where did the ocean come from, what's before the no-self of the buddhists or the all-permeating self of the vedantists. there's an old joke, a discussion between two greek philosophers. the student asks his respected teacher:
"sir, i understand zeus holds this world on his shoulders and is himself standing on a huge turtle. but, where did that turtle come from?"
"the turtle is standing on another turtle," the teacher answers.
"ok, but what is that turtle standing on?"
"well, that turtle is standing on another turtle," the teacher continues.
"ok," said the student, " but, what is that turtle standing on?"
"on another turtle," the teacher says with slightly higher voice.
"but, what is that turtle standing on," persists the student.
"oh, for god's sake!," the teacher barks out, "it's turtles all the way down! ok!?"
     what i still want to know is, where did the first turtle come from? what i still want to know is, where did the first mother come from, where did that first wave come from? so i guess i have a bucket list after all. only, i've been working on that list for over forty years.

editor's note:
to the lady who wrote in to say i should shut the heck up about death and dying: i am reminded of a similar criticism i received several years ago when someone told me i should stop writing about urinary problems. i proceeded to write a three-part series about the various public toilets in the wakefield area, from the porta-potties to the general store, including detailed descriptions and a system of rating for each.
what i would suggest is, knowing me as i do, that you look up in your computer's user manual and find out where is the on/off switch.

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