Life is short (and therefore by definition precious), so don’t just piss it away. How many times have we all heard this adage in its various incarnations (and incantations)? Thousands of times I suspect. But how many of us really take it to heart? Or, at least, seriously enough to actually do something about it.
I just lost another good friend (and I didn’t have all that many to start with). My friend Dave recently lost his battle with heart disease and organ failure, while waiting for a multiple organ transplant at Cedars Sinai Hospital, he was only 68 years old—yeah, my age.
Let me say, at the outset, that Dave did not piss his life away. He did the best he could with the cards he had been dealt. His heart condition was genetic in origin, rather than the result of bad lifestyle decisions. He was professionally successful until said heart condition forced his early retirement in his mid-fifties. He followed his passions as best he could given his physical limitations, and he fought the good fight. Never one to wallow in despair, he remained positive almost to the very end.
I was in Panama when I got word that he was failing, and then my computer broke down. When I was finally able to get back online in Ecuador (approximately 3 months later) I learned of his passing. His passing was not easy, and I blame the medical profession for that—it should have been otherwise. But that’s a discussion for another time.
Dave and I were friends for over 55 years, and in all that time I never told him what his friendship meant to me. It meant a lot. He knew that, just as I intuitively know what my friendship meant to him. But being two macho-type guys we never actually spoke the words. There’s a lesson here: take the time to tell the one’s you care about how you feel.
You don’t reach my venerable age without losing people you care about. It is all part of the Yin/Yang of life, the duality of the whole. I am not a formally religious person, though I have a deep spiritual core. I do believe in a continuum of sorts, though not the heaven and hell afterlife scenario so many Christians espouse. To each his own, I am comfortable with my own belief system.
Death is no stranger to me. My first love died at an uncommonly young age; my best friend died when he was only 21 years old; Vietnam removed many more friends and comrades from my life; even my own parents were taken at an early age. Mom succumbed to breast cancer, after a 3 year fight, at 53; dad rapidly slipped into madness and took his own life 3 short years later at 64. My youngest brother, who did manage to piss his life away with a lifelong addiction to drugs, finally ended his torment at 59.
I have had my own skirmishes with the Grim Reaper over the years: a leukaemia scare when I was very young, a couple of rattlesnake bites at ages 8 and 10 that resulted in critical hospital stays, at least two close calls in Vietnam, and most recently a critical health issue in Guatemala. At the time none of these occurrences scared me overmuch, but upon reflection they have (at least subliminally) brought about profound changes in my life.
I learned early on that there are no guarantees in life, other than it is short and precious. I don’t dwell on death, even though it’s always there (sometimes as our enemy, but just as often as our friend). Without death life has no meaning—no poignancy. I fear it not, but until that final moment comes (whether it’s an ending or merely a transition), I will wring every ounce of living I can from this fleeting existence.
I don’t subscribe to the Christian notion of sin (much less original sin), but if I did, then certainly to piss one’s life away would be a sin. Don’t do it. It is the most precious thing we possess (even temporarily), so don’t waste one moment of it. Are you living the life you want (the life you deserve)? Or like Thoreau’s Walden, are you amongst: “The mass of men lead[ing] lives of quiet desperation.”
My friend Dave did not piss his life away. I am no longer pissing my life away. Are you pissing your life away? Maybe it’s time for a gut check, and brutal honesty. Though the words are my own, I now model my life on the Thoreau-like principle: To Live Simple; To Live Cheap; To Live Free. Concerning the rest, I refer you to a recent post on Facebook: “Not my monkey, not my circus.” To whom do you owe your final allegiance? I would submit that you owe your final allegiance to yourself. If you believe in a [the] personal Christian God, then you believe you are a manifestation of God’s grace—if he trusts you, then maybe you should trust yourself. If you, like me, believe in an undefined higher authority, then maybe you should trust in that higher plane of authority. I am not talking about abdication here, quite the contrary, I am talking about actively taking control of your life, and not just passively letting life happen.
My final admonition or invitation to you is: Don’t waste your life, don’t just piss it away. It is short, at the best of times, and therefore precious beyond price.
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer and World Traveler
(and sometimes lame philosopher)
Reporting from Quito, Ecuador