Saturday, September 05, 2015

Thoughts toward the end

Dad is 92, so statistically speaking he’s probably not long for this world. His cancer is metastatic and he’s in the hospital, which only reinforces the prognosis.

We’ve spoken about his approaching end, but as I’ve told many grieving friends and colleagues in the past, one can never actually be ready for it—no matter how long we’ve seen it coming.

What is happening inside me? Well, I have to tell you I’m rather a mess. Dad’s fondest wish is that his descendants all outlive him. Indeed, the alternative would be awful. I know all this, but I’m not actually ready to go through it.

So how am I processing all this? Not very well. And yet part of what’s happening is that I feel compelled to be a better man. When I got Thursday morning’s notice, “You’re eligible to donate life-giving blood!” the urge to run over to the blood center was powerful.

You see, Dad had a habit of donating blood. When I was still living at home, he would sometimes announce, “Going to give blood” before heading to the blood bank. Part of that was prudence: you build up credit, and if you need some units of blood in the future, you don’t have to buy them. I don’t know how many gallons he gave, but it was way beyond what he might ever credibly need. So the savings aspect wasn’t his only motivation. Giving blood, I learned, is something a man does.

And so, with Dad so many steps closer to the grave, I wanted to do something life-affirming—something Dad would do, or rather, something Dad did.

As Phillip stuck the needle into my arm that afternoon, I mentioned Dad’s habit. “Part of why I do this is I wanted to be like him. Still do!” I said, barely retaining my composure.

“That’s what a parent wants,” he returned. Indeed.

Something else is happening to me in these days: when I see young people, my paternal feelings arise a little more strongly than before. Perhaps that Socioemotional selectivity theory is kicking in: 18 months ago I felt like I’d live forever, but today I know better—that I’m unlikely to double my years. I probably don’t have even four decades left.

I can hear some of you laughing: “Four decades? I haven’t even been alive that long!” But I remember my grandmother telling me just the other day, when I six or seven years old, that this world goes by fast. I’m here to tell you that she was right. The other day I reported for work at my first “real” job as a development engineer at hp. That was about four decades ago.
A colleague spoke about a lack of enjoyment in life—particularly his work life. I thought about his words and wrote him a few paragraphs with my thoughts. Another young guy stood up to the boss in a meeting. He wasn’t defiant, but he declined to promise an earlier delivery date for one of his tasks. I wrote him some paragraphs about a similar experience I’d had in my earlier years, and encouraged him to keep up his self-awareness. Bowing to the pressure will only get you in trouble, I told him.

I’m not sure I would have done that two years ago; two years ago I’m not even sure I would have noticed what these guys were saying, or how it was an invitation for me to speak [or write] into their lives.

With young women, my paternal feelings come out even more strongly, perhaps because I have daughters. A young friend is starting a career in elementary education, and as I thought of her energy and her love blessing those kids, it made me feel so happy. I told her so, too.

And that brought to mind the passion and experience that the lovely Carol brings to her lessons, and to young mothers at a church group—I thought about how she’s blessing those students and those young mothers, and that made me happy, too. (I also told her.)

It is good to think about death sometimes, as this article notes. I’m not sure I want to greet each morning with, “It is a good day to die,” but I need to remember that I will die some day, probably before four decades are out. And also to think about people in my life who deserve good words from me—comfort or encouragement—and remember to be liberal with those gifts. If not today, then when? As the Bible says, Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. And not because something Bad will happen if I don’t, but because doing it will bring good into the world, in and through my life. And because that's what a man does.

2 comments:

Vishvanath Indi said...

This is a wonderfully written piece. Recently I read the famous writing of Oliver Sacks, neurologist who passed away recently and this is a good accompanying piece of writing.

This blog was referred to me by my daughter Divya, who was an intern at your team in Netapp.

Thanks, once gain, for the wonderful piece and the advice thru it.

Yankeerick said...

Thanks for this, Collin. It's beautifully written; Carol's not the only one in your family with a gift of writing.