Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Thursday, June 19, 2014

We're Unique ... and We're Not

When you grow older (as I one day probably will), you gradually realize (or so I've read) that a lot of the uniqueness you felt was yours has fallen from you like (ready for a cliché or two?) ... Leaves from a tree? Feathers from a molting bird? Hair from a balding man?  Oobleck from a Seussian sky? (Take your pick.)

When I was a little boy, I was certain I was and always would be exempt from the cruel vicissitudes of life. (Falls from my bicycle, burns on the stove, encounters with bullies at school, my inability to use crayons to draw anything that remotely resembled anything actual, etc.--these soon began to modify my view of the world.) I was certain I would never get old like my great-grandfather Lanterman (1866-1963), who, by the end of his days, was lying in bed moaning, "I can't even wind my own damn watch"--but still declaring that he was looking to marry a rich widow in poor health and promising that when he reached 100, he was going to start going back the other way. (We'll never know if he could have done that, as you can see my his dates.)

I suppose I was certain, too, that I would always be able to run (not all that fast, as I soon discovered on the long sidewalk of the University Place Christian Church, Enid, OK, where, at about age 10, a girl (Shirley Williamson) whupped me with ease in a footrace). In fact, I was sure as a kid that I would always be able to do the physical things I wanted to do because, of course, I would never get old. Some years later, I remember the shock of recognition when I read Hemingway's 1924 story "Indian Camp" involving Nick Adams, a character very much like Hemingway himself. At the end of the story, Nick is with his father, a physician (as Hemingways' was), who has has just treated a pregnant woman. Here's the final sentence:

   In the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing; he felt quite sure that he would never die.

You go, Nick!

Throughout my life of 69 years (70 looms, only months away) I have learned in so many ways that I'm not unique--not beyond the grasp of physiology and physics, fragility and illness. I have battled weight gain my entire adult life (losing, winning, losing again)--I had thought I would never have that problem, a problem shared by my father and his numerous brothers. I've watched my physical abilities decline. I used to run 4-6 miles a day. Can't run at all now (ankles, knees). I used to be a decent baseball player (up through high school), but now I have to tell my nine-year-old grandson to take a little off his fastball when we're playing catch. When I was teaching, I used to get up around 5, play Early Bird tennis at 5:30, teach all day, go to play practice, etc. Later, my tennis days over (elbow, shoulder, knees, ankle), I would still rise around 5 and be in my classroom at 6 a.m., working, preparing for the day. Now I have to force myself out of bed between 6:30-7. And I sometimes find myself "needing" a little nap about 2:30--a "little nap" that can sometimes consume two hours. Or more.

As a young man I never thought I would do and say some of the dumb, dumber, and dumbest things I did as a teacher, husband, father. But I did. I never thought I would lose my father. Never thought I'd see my mother in a wheelchair, unable to read (she was always reading). Never thought I'd be so fiercely loved as I have been for nearly forty-five years now. (It's nice to be wrong, now and then.)

And, of course, prostate cancer. In late 2004 when I had my biopsy, I was certain I did not have the illness. I was wrong, so very wrong. About so many things.

So many of us continue to feel as if we have some sort of "exemption card" that enables us, to, oh, drink-and-drive, text-and-drive, eat whatever we want to, watch endless television (or surf or Facebook or whatever endlessly), smoke, gamble, use our Visa cards, ignore our children--our parents--our siblings, and do other things we know are deleterious ... to others, of course, not to us. We have that exemption card ...  Among life's hardest lessons: learning there is no such card. Those who appear to have one are merely floating on the surface for the nonce; the sharks are still stirring below, growing hungry.

Of course, I've also discovered throughout my life some ways that I've remained (relatively) unique, and I think I'll get into those things next time ...

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