A little more personal philosophy.
"Please do not take life quite so seriously—you surely will never get out of it alive."
— Elbert Hubbard in the December 1900 issue of "The Philistine"
I've seen Death. I've just not met him yet, but I know him. Not that we've ever been introduced or sat together over a beer, and we're definitely not sufficiently acquainted to Netflix and chill. Better to say that I've seen his coat-tails as he's passed by others, and twice he's flirted with me. Let me say then that I've felt his presence more than I'm comfortable with.
I watched the light go out in a little girl's eyes after she'd been hit by a car. I think that was the worst one, knowing that covering her tiny body with my coat was all I could do. The funeral was terrible; a coffin the size of a large suitcase, bright white as though it could bring hope to the family deprived of the bundle of joy now turned into a bundle of bruised bones.
Once one of my window-cleaning customers came running out to me after I'd finished her house, hiccup-crying as I followed her back to the lounge to find her husband turning grey and struggling to breathe. I sent her to call an ambulance while I started chest compressions. "stayin' alive, stayin' alive…" Somehow I kept it up for about ten minutes until one of her neighbours arrived "stayin' alive, stayin' alive…" and could help out. The ambulance finally came and she and her sweetie were whisked off to hospital while her neighbour and I locked up the house. I was worn to a frazzle and went home. I learned later that he recovered long enough for his wife to say goodbye to him. She baked me some shortcake the next time I went to clean her windows, and thanked me every time she saw me after that.
The day Christine died, I felt the brush of his robes against my cheek.
Manure Occureth (Don’t take life so serious, son; it ain’t nohow permanent)
Let's talk kittens. They are indestructible bundles of curious mischief, right? They climb curtains with no knowledge of fear and wail to get down, or they jump and be damned. They crawl into tiny spaces because they can and because they want to know what's in there. Cute little fuzzy rascals, just living their lives like there's no tomorrow because by Golly they just can. So they do.
If you ever read the Pogo cartoon strip you'll likely know where this title comes from. The introverted and perpetually grouchy Porky Pine utters this line once or twice during the life of the strip. I read the comics (my Dad brought a compendium back from Goose Bay when I was in my teens) and this was one of the lines that stuck with me. That, and "we have met the enemy, and he is us"). In addition, Grundoon is of course a character in the strip. Funny how my life has been moulded by a US comic strip for fifty-plus years.
The phrase haunted me. Haunts me. Guides me, chides me. I'm inclined to get most upset by the little things, and this mostly brings me back from the edge of rage and has likely saved many keyboards and laptops from fist-poundings or defenestrations.
Porky Pine is really telling me that shit happens. A good friend of mine has a t-shirt that reads "Manure Occureth" and it's just perfect. The kitten survives the fall, or backs out of the pipe and thirty-seven other things every day and every time it gets out of the scrape it's just fine. But it learns. It learns to gauge the jump, test the pipe diameter and if it fails, to deal with the consequences. Fail to make the leap? Drop to the floor, lick a paw and look around as if to say "What‽ That was what I wanted to happen".
Now I remember why I wrote that first paragraph. Everybody dies. We will one day, all be gone. All that will be left of me is the digital chicken-scratch here and some hopefully fond memories and stories. I do want to leave some good footprints. Hopefully I have. Someone asked me recently to sum up my philosophy, and my best summary was to paraphrase first Jesus, then Seneca. "Do unto others as you would have them do to you" and “If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.”
I live in a troubled world. It's always been troubled. I lived through post-war austerity in Britain, the Cuba Crisis, Margaret Thatcher, 9/11, a pandemic and all the other nonsense happening now. I realise I can't change what's happening but I can change myself. Again with the Seneca:
"…the only safe harbor in this life’s tossing, troubled sea is to refuse to be bothered about what the future will bring and to stand ready and confident, squaring the breast to take without skulking or flinching whatever fortune hurls at us."
Every single day I get outside to do something involving curiosity. I'll go and find an interesting flower or insect or other wriggly thing. I'll watch the turkey vultures circling, or the hawks hunting. I go out and watch the sunset and sunrise most days. I watch the moon wax and wane and the stars in their perpetual cycles. I like to wait for shooting stars and just sometimes I will make a wish. It's a childlike curiosity that I keep cultivating, it's that sense of wonder at the glorious universe we live in and occasionally it's realising that I'm a fragile blob of mostly water standing on a speck of rock spinning round an insignificant star in a backwater one of billions of galaxies. But that moment matters, and if I get to share it with someone, that counts for more.
I hug everybody, pretty much. I greet people with a smile, as if I'd not seen them in forever, and I say goodbye like I'm leaving the country. I like to think that is how I'll be remembered. Not for rugged good looks, but the feeling that my fellow humans are, for the most part important souls also adrift in an ocean of chaos.
Everything I say or write or do could be my last thing. So I try to make everything I do memorable for the right reasons. I have a hat that reads Be Here Now and by Golly that's what I aim to do. So if you see me taking myself too seriously, pour water over me quickly and remind me. And please feel free to laugh at me during my memorial.
I did strip an experience that was pretty bloody bleak. On reflection it's a part of my history I'd sooner forget. Thanks all for your feedback.
Then there's this one