Family Magazine

Zen and the Art of Simply Breathing

By Bloggerfather @bloggerfather
Breathe in, breathe out. Not so difficult, is it? Still around, folks.

Here's a joke. I heard it in a too-hot stand-up tent on the last day of the Phoenix Festival in England, in 1996, and it stuck. I'll paraphrase:
I'm watching the news, and this guy comes up in front of his burning home, and he says to the camera, "You know, I always thought stuff like that only happened to OTHER people!" And I'm looking at this guy, and I can't help thinking, "OK, but you ARE other people!"

That's all. That's the joke. Don't know why it stuck with me, but it's there. It's there every time I look in the mirror, actually.
Because you're not the only ones who read this and feel a comfortable distance. I do too. Even now, I will read a blog post from someone who's going through the same stuff I'm going through, and think to myself, "Man... It's tough, what other people have to go through in this world. What's for dinner?"

Then, at other times, I'm forced to face reality.
Madeline comes home from school. I open her backpack and see two drawings. Looks cool, what is it?
"It's a dying lion. But he feels better because he's resting in bed."
"And what's the other drawing?" I ask, afraid of the answer.
"It's a dying bear. But he's also resting in bed."
I get very little insight into what she knows and what's going on with her. She's 4, and what should and does appear to concern her are her friends, the kid who pushes other kids in preschool, and what dessert she'll have tonight. But also, apparently, death. And I guess the feeling that as soon as her dad stops resting, he would die.
We told her I was sick. She knows I've been to the hospital a lot. But from there to drawing dying animals... I wish I could grab her right now and make it clear to her that everything would be fine. That with or without me, she would grow up to be an amazing woman. That she has a mother who would always take care of her and always love her, and an older brother who would always be there for her. But how do I say something like that? How do I even hint about the possibility of not being there for her? Not experiencing life with her?

Since starting this post and today, I was at the hospital for 6 days. I had pneumonia, a 104 fever, and the oxygen tubes back in my nostrils, and it turns out breathing in and out wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. Funny, it seems so easy now when I'm back home. In and out, and you live another day. Easy peasy.

I go on the treadmill--doctor's orders. Since my pulse is constantly over 100, even when I sleep, I don't want to push it too much, so basically, I walk for half an hour and watch Netflix. What could be better than that? And it makes me feel normal.
And for a moment, I forget.

We're going to the beach tomorrow. Don't be sick. Don't be sick. Don't be sick. Don't be sick. Don't ruin it for everyone. Make it work. Don't be sick. Please, I don't ask for much, but just give me these 4 days. Four healthy days. Please!

Zen and the Art of Simply Breathing
Zen and the Art of Simply Breathing
Zen and the Art of Simply Breathing

Making it there and being healthy enough to spend time with the kids was the most important thing I could ever do. I didn't get into the water with them, but I was there. I was there at the beach, and I was there at the Ocean City boardwalk, bravely protecting the family from the evil seagulls who'd stop at nothing to get their fries. And I was there to take pictures and to finally shift my attention from myself and from my "condition."

Now I'm back home and I really want to live. Is that silly or what? Funny time to choose to live... I've read the Epictetus quote about death again today, trying to put things into perspective. Feel free to consider "The Giver" whatever you want it to be. It could be nature, or God, or anything you could imagine has put us here.
And dost thou that hast received all from another's hands, repine and blame the Giver, if He takes anything from thee? Why, who art thou, and to what end comest thou here? was it not He that made the Light manifest unto thee, that gave thee fellow-workers, and senses, and the power to reason? And how brought He thee into the world? Was it not as one born to die; as one bound to live out his earthly life in some small tabernacle of flesh; to behold His administration, and for a little while share with Him in the mighty march of this great Festival Procession? Now therefore that thou hast beheld, while it was permitted thee, the Solemn Feast and Assembly, wilt thou not cheerfully depart, when He summons thee forth, with adoration and thanksgiving for what thou hast seen and heard?--"Nay, but I would fain have stayed longer at the Festival."--Ah, so would the mystics fain have the rites prolonged; so perchance would the crowd at the Great Games fain behold more wrestlers still. But the Solemn Assembly is over! Come forth, depart with thanksgiving and modesty--give place to others that must come into being even as thyself.

And it helps. It helps to know people have been thinking about these things 2,000 years ago. I'm not the first one who wants just a little bit more. When breathing in and out becomes almost impossible--just a little bit more. Maybe one more trip to the beach? How about one more car ride? Or even the opportunity to see those faces smile just one more time?

Living like that, with the awareness--the constant awareness--is strange, but maybe the dark cloud hovering above me is not that dark?
See, there's a cloud above me, and no matter what I do what I say where I am and who I'm with, there's a cancer and mortality and an end, and I'm almost constantly aware. By the way, I assume that if I have a cloud of impending mortality, you have one too, since give or take a few years, we're all doomed. But if you're not aware of the cloud, are you at some kind of a disadvantage? Or should I try to re-learn from you to ignore the cloud?
I'm not sure what to think. Life under the cloud is different. Here's a small and silly example: On the one hand, now I know that the whole "One day I'm going to learn French" that's been at the back of my mind is not going to happen. That's it. On the other hand, I don't feel bad about it anymore. For years I've told myself "One day," and when another day came and I didn't improve my French, I felt guilty. But that's done. I speak enough languages. I play enough musical instruments. I know enough DIY. I have zero gardening skills. Very little cooking skills. Constantly feeling like I should be more? Constantly feeling guilt? Hey, that's pre-cloud thinking. Maybe the cloud isn't a morbid distraction from life, but a gift, allowing me to stop treating the day that's passed like it was wasted, and instead, letting me concentrate on all the good that's happened? I saw a butterfly today. It was a good day.

Another meeting at the hospital. Another blood test body scan brain scan. There's a reduction in the number and in the size. I'm doing good. I mean doing well. I'm a little slow, a little weak, a little tired, but 3 months into this thing, I'm not doing too bad. I'm fighting this thing, I'm a fighter. If by fighting you mean getting out of bed in the morning.
I'm not sure what this "fighter" business means, but I guess I know when I stop trying to fight.
I've never liked the idea of getting old. I remember for years, going to visit my grandmother, and her only reply to "How are you," was, "You know... Old age..." And what was her reward for surviving old age? A further deterioration of body and mind. Nearly blind at 99, she still recognized us all. Still remembered our kids, even. But at the same time, she was elsewhere--you could tell she was elsewhere. I remember one time I was sitting with her in the Home, and she suddenly raised her voice and said, "Three kids I put through university! No one can say I didn't do that!" Which was somehow the most personal thing she'd ever said to me. She then quickly moved on to our usual Grandma-Grandson relationship: the "How are you, have a cookie!" talk. And she was one of the good ones, mentally. The other grandmother didn't recognize me when I was visiting, until suddenly she'd remember, say something relevant, and sink back.
So I didn't want to become that, and I have to admit that the possibility of avoiding that became a slightly morbid but nonetheless real silver lining. But what if I get old age symptoms soon? What if I lose my eyesight? Lose my ability to walk? What if I lose my mind? One more brain radiation, I was told this week, and I'd start losing it--just simple stuff, just forgetting things for a start. But it's my brain! It's me! Without it, what's the point?
That's when I stop being a warrior. If I become a young old man, unable to see, walk, and think clearly, I might just wake up, turn the TV on, and wait.

And meanwhile, tests are good. The bad stuff is shrinking. We even have another trip planned, including the zoo at Central Park in New York, apple picking in Vermont... There's still a lot to do and a lot of life to experience with the kids. I love life--I just want to live it on my terms.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Still surrounded by love.
Still thankful.
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