The whale on the beach where I ran last night was most certainly dead. In fact, its skull stared me in the face, but parts of its flesh still clinged to its body. A flipper and some vertebrae were present. Down a bit further, some more of said whale. Certainly more existed elsewhere, perhaps washed up on some other beach for some other runner to stumble upon. Miles, a poodle through and through, was skeptical and a little disgusted. I, a nerd and a philosopher through and through, was intrigued.
Whale, Nov 1, 2014
I have observed death several times. Mostly in patients: I have been present for many deaths and pronounced many others. I am a good doctor, really. But people die, and I want to be there for them in that moment too, so, there it is. I have seen the gruesome, the serene, and the personal. Watched my Dad die, and he seriously cracked a joke as his final words. My Mom? I sat vigil for days, but she waited till everyone went down to the stupid hospital cafeteria. She, apparently, was not interested in spectators. Death is mystical, physical, inevitable, sad and not all that pretty. It is almost impossible, in my experience, to make peoples eyes close after they die. Death on television is much cleaner.
I used to read this book to my kids about Day of the Dead. We have often celebrated it, in the blunted American sense. Our departed are not found in local graves, and my sense of mysticism has not been adopted by my children. But somewhere in their brains is planted this idea about death as a part of the journey, and the departed as part of us all.
The Mission District, San Francisco, November
Until we die though, I think we should live. I have 3 teenagers, and they are very set in their ways. If they would believe a thing I said, I would want them to believe this:
Life is full of beauty. Notice it.
I ran in the woods this evening, with my dog. We set the clocks back last night, and the sunset came hard and fast at 5:30pm. So Miles and I, we ran in the dusk. I breathed the crisp air of fall, and reveled in the soft redwood carpet below me. Miles hung close to me, and we were solidly planted in the moment. Once my phone rang: the hospital, about a patient. I breathed, and responded. Miles cocked his head at me, wondering when we would resume running. But even he was not bothered.
How can one be bothered, under the canopy of a redwood forest, on a fall evening, with the crisp air caressing skin and the clean air of the north coast filling the lungs?
Please, please, when I die: visit my grave with marigolds and sweet pan de muertos.
Until then, notice the beating of your heart and how it bids you to be alive. Yeats says it best:
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face among a crowd of stars.