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Tony Grist

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Dr Johnson Was Wrong [May. 11th, 2012|11:08 am]
Tony Grist
It happens with some people who have lived a long time that they just stop bothering. My granny Vi, for instance- a lively, worldly, fun-loving woman who- at around 75- plonked herself down in her armchair, with her ciggies, her gin and her Daily Express, and slowly, very slowly, faded away. We- her family- thought it was a pity. She wasn't ill or in pain, just tired. Just bored. Towards the end she turned bitter- and the unending sarcastic badinage she and my grandfather kept up made them difficult to be around.  

She has become my model of how not to do it. By "it" I mean dying. I wish she'd tried a little harder. Some people do. My other grandmother kept going- and interacting and being there for others- until she was all but transparent with old age. Then she dropped. But perhaps Granny Vi couldn't help herself. This is what worries me most: that death will take me by the scruff and hurry me along and I'll lose control of all my hard-won philosophy and go out in some abject fashion, whining and complaining and being a nuisance. That's what Dr Johnson was worried about too when he said, "It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives". He was getting his excuses in early. But that separation of death and life is a verbal quibble. Next door to a falsehood. Dying isn't something apart from life; it's a part of life, the last bit of living that we do. You can't section it off and pretend it doesn't matter. Living and dying are part of a continuum and- unless you die suddenly and unexpectedly- it's impossible to say where one ends and the other begins.  Our manner of dying will be the latest and most vivid memory we leave to our posterity. It matters enormously. 

Life is precious. We mustn't give up on it prematurely. We need to make the most of every last crumb. 

[User Picture]From: theperfectfool
2012-05-11 10:33 am (UTC)
What a good thing to read ad I contemplate the arrival of my second half-century in a few days. Thank you!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-05-11 11:09 am (UTC)
Cheers. :)

50's the big one.
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[User Picture]From: ooxc
2012-05-11 01:05 pm (UTC)
I hardly noticed 50 - had a good party for 60 - 70 is the one I feel a bit challenged by -
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-05-11 03:57 pm (UTC)
It was the other way round for me. 50 was the big one, 60 I don't even remember.
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[User Picture]From: dadi
2012-05-11 01:43 pm (UTC)
I have been meditating about these things quite a bit lately too, observing my father slip ever deeper in a state of "absence". It seems that every day he participates a bit less in life, cares a bit less about what goes on around him, lets the reins slip out of his hands a bit more. And he is not really old with his 76 years, there are many relatives and acquaintances of my parents who are 10 years older and even if not physically in a much better shape (though many are) much more "alive". I am trying to understand what is behind this, depression? Tiredness? Character? He has always been somebody who said "if I stop participating, somebody shoot me please", and now he is just.. slipping away slowly, until nobody won´t really even notice him being gone for good, probably. It hurts though.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-05-11 04:02 pm (UTC)
My mother is over 90 and still driving her car, still going to the races.

I understand people giving up, but...
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[User Picture]From: ibid
2012-05-11 06:31 pm (UTC)
I'm so frightened my father is going down that road.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-05-13 08:57 am (UTC)
...And there's nothing anyone can do. My f-i-l simply stops listening when we call him on his attitude.

Just don't beat yourself up about it. It isn't your fault.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-05-12 08:05 am (UTC)
There's something a little repulsive about Heilbrun's suicide. It's the sort of thing a Vulcan would do.

I made a point of not seeing that Murdoch movie. I think her husband betrayed her by parading her before the public in that state. Now she's more famous for having had Alzheimers than for writing those wonderful books. It was an caddish thing to do.
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[User Picture]From: pondhopper
2012-05-11 02:16 pm (UTC)
Ah yes. I'm glad I woke up early enough to squeeze all I can out of life...I was in a state of lethargy (call it depression if you like) and the epiphany was huge when I saw how stupid I was being. I like this post, Tony. It resonates very strongly and I hope I can keep die with as much life as possible.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-05-11 04:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

I once used "feeling depressed" as an excuse for turning up late to work- and my boss (who happened to be a ward matron) jumped all over me. "Oh," she said, "So you're clinically ill, are you?"

I've never made that mistake again.
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[User Picture]From: zoe_1418
2012-05-11 04:40 pm (UTC)
I like this comment! Especially "the epiphany was huge"!
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[User Picture]From: pondhopper
2012-05-11 06:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you...and with a typo and all. The "keep" shouldn't be there...don't know what I was thinking.
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[User Picture]From: zoe_1418
2012-05-11 06:54 pm (UTC)
I must have unconsciously edited out the extraneous "keep," because I didn't even notice!
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[User Picture]From: pondhopper
2012-05-11 06:55 pm (UTC)
And I didn't notice until your reply came in and I re-read what I wrote.
I'm notorious for not proofreading.
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[User Picture]From: faunhaert
2012-05-11 02:18 pm (UTC)
i used to think
when it was time
my chosen time to die

i'd lay down and just do it.

but yesterday
i was buzy doing lawns stuff
and though

it would just so easy to just say
fuckit and die and let some one else finish
the yard work et all.

but today when i dumped my load of dross
and my back right quadrant felt like some one
reached in a grabbed it and twisted.
i realized i wanted the pain to stop
but not the living....

think i'll put this on my journal too
seems appropriate on a fried day
and link to your post

its so much more about the process
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-05-11 04:19 pm (UTC)
OK. :)

We don't live for very long- death will come soon enough- and while we're alive it's important we put some effort into it.
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[User Picture]From: veronikos
2012-05-11 05:59 pm (UTC)
I add this only because you have previously indicated interest in my alchemical writings.

You mostly set up a false dichotomy here between life and death, living and dying, although you move slightly away from that when you more correctly say that dying is the last bit of living that we do. The truth of the matter (and this is a fundamental of alchemical philosophy) is that Life and Death are not opposites -- Birth and Death are. Those two are the opposite side of the coin we call "Life." Those wise ones in the past who have successfully prolonged the length of their lives have told us that the secret is a kind of Equilibrium in which they balance the forces of destruction (getting rid of wastes, toxins, etc. in the body) with the forces of construction (constructing new cells, building new tissue, etc.). Or, as I have said recently -- the secret is to be always departing in the midst of arriving.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-05-12 08:25 am (UTC)
That dichotomy between life and death is built into the culture and hard to evade. The way I see it Life is actually all there is. We are spirit. We live eternally. Birth and Death are simply the processes (the portals) by which we dip in and out of incarnation.

I think we're more or less in agreement about that.

What I've been wanting to ask you, but haven't because I don't want to seem either stupid or insulting is "Why alchemy?" Why, given that life is in endless supply, would one want to prolong a particular incarnation? Is it that a extended life allows one more scope to gather and consolidate wisdom?
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2012-05-12 11:48 am (UTC)
I am only 49, but have been fading for years. Each day I want to be here a little less, some days a lot less. Part of it is chronic depression. Decades of emotional pain wear you down. Part of it is boredom and loneliness. Mostly, I'm just tired of it all, with nothing in my future worth waiting for and an awful lot I'd rather avoid.

I'm kind of ashamed of it and certainly didn't expect life to turn out this way. I doubt anyone does.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-05-12 05:55 pm (UTC)
I find the idea of death comforting. I wouldn't want to go on being "me" indefinitely. Life is tiring...
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2012-05-13 10:59 am (UTC)
I find the idea very comforting.
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