You are in heaven
And left me with your name.
The most important lesson my father taught me was that at each moment I should wonder, "Is this what I want to be doing?"
I mean literally - a lifetime is finite. You were born a clock. Fully wound. Fully charged.
At some point the spring goes slack. The battery goes dead. The gears come off their pinions. The transistors fail open. The chips go up in smoke.
If you knew when that was going to happen; if at birth the OBGyn handed your slimy body to your mother along with not only a certification of the moment you emerged, but also, a warranty for when your heart was set to expire - if they knew, and you knew always, when "it" was going to happen:
would you still be doing *this*
And the lesson is that the meaning of life is getting to the point where the answer is, "yes,"
and you never consider the question again.
Go back fifteen years. Make it twenty. Maybe twenty-five.
I'm sitting at my Mac 8600, OS 9.something, writing C++ using MetrowerksCode Warrior, figuring out all the intricacies of properly terminating a SCSI bus, mating it to an RS232 signal coming from a ham radio TNC, and getting myself heavily involved in the new digital modes of radio.
To do all this I needed to read a lot of expensive books I bought at Computer Literacy, an iconic Silicon Valley bookstore that housed all the latest and nearly any technical information related to electronics and computers. There was no internet as we now know it, but there was Computer Literacy and there were collections of data in various places on various computers accessible by dialing a phone with a device called a Hayes modem.
I'm good at figuring out things, and so I did. And when I finally booted Linux on my Motorola/SCSI Mac, I posted the results on comp.programming.mac, which at the time was primarily hosted by the wizards at MIT. And when I wrote various programs to allow what we know think of as "texting" over ham radio, I posted those, too.
During the prior decade I posted a lot of things on comp.*.mac. I asked questions. Provided solutions. Gave up a lot of source code.
Despite my prolific contribution, I rarely spawned any person-to-person interaction. I suspect my code may have been too simple, or perhaps I was solving problems nobody cared about. After all, who the hell cared about running Linux on a Motorola/SCSI based Mac8600?
One day I got an e-mail. I don't remember which day. I remember the e-mail.
The writer asked me if I had any ideas about virus protection on the Mac. In those days, the great thing about the Mac as a personal compute platform was that less than 5% of all computer owners used one. Virus writers didn't bother trying to attack it. And Apple's advertising boasted that nobody could break into their OS - and if you did, they'd give you a prize.
I don't know if they ever gave out the prize. Most likely nobody cared about getting it.
But this e-mailer wanted to know if I knew of any particular weaknesses in the Apple platform, and if I knew of any, did I know of any remedies?
Truth was - I had never given Apple OS viruses a second thought, and even if I had, my own programming skills are those of a well-advised, intelligent amateur who is really an electrical engineer. So I had nothing to offer.
So I replied I couldn't really help, and I suggested he contact the one guy at Apple I had any actual correspondence with (Chuq Von Rorspach), whom I only really knew because we both had sold science fiction stories to various magazines.
The e-mailer also had written some sci-fi and had connected my name with the comp.mac group that way.
I was flattered.
And I responded that he, himself, had a pretty famous name, and was he at all related to THE Roger Ebert.
And he said he was THE Roger Ebert.
And I never heard from him again, nor did I ever write to him, because I knew he was a movie critic and at that time there were only two movies in the world I liked. So I knew we'd have nothing to talk about.
The dog and I resting on the mesa south of Sedona,
Watching the sunset,
Contemplating that getting down from the slick red sandstone in the dark will be more difficult than the climb up.
They say there's a psychical vortex here. Something in the crossing of the Lei Lines, or an eternal vow of a Shoshone medicine man,
Or the energy of the erratic worship of a thousand Deepak Chopra seminar attendees now jamming the one road back to Phoenix,
Or maybe the mental will of the guy who guarantees you'll see a UFO if you pay him a hundred bucks and follow him into the desert.
The dog says he doesn't feel the vortex, and being of the animal kingdom he's not afflicted by belief or doubt.
He rests his muzzle between his paws. I sit and wag my feet in the open air, the soles half a thousand feet above the trail below.
"I didn't get a choice like you did," he says. "But imagine that you had the choice of all the times available in the infinity of time from the big bang to the end of reality. You decided that now was the best time to be born. And of all the things to think in the time you're using up, you're fixating on this vortex idea."
"Well, what should I be doing?" I say, and the sun sets. We don't see a green flash. I say, "Rats," as the last bit of the solar disk disappears below the level horizon.
"You're asking a dog?" says the dog.
"Well, I wanted the perspective of the animal kingdom, and you as a representative..."
"Dude." He says, then yawns. "We are here to accompany, not to advise."
The sky grows violet and Venus bores a brilliant white hole through the growing night. Nearby is Sirius.
"Dog star," I say, pointing it out.
"And let me remind you..."
"Yeah, ok, I know. A dog never named a single star."
"They don't need names."
"Then how the hell do you tell one from the other?"
A UFO zips from the horizon to the zenith and stops over us.
"Think Bruce brought in over two-K tonight? He's got to have almost thirty people watching. It's the height of the tourist season."
The dog glances at the craft, and then at me.
He says, "One of these days you have to tell me exactly what you humans think you are doing."
"I'll let you know as soon as I figure it out myself," I say. We start down.
He says, "You need to realize how ridiculous your behavior seems to simple folk."
"And you are just content to follow, no matter what."
"At least I know why I'm here."
"To accompany. Never advise."
We negotiate the ledges and cracks, trying to reach the desert floor before the striated sandstone loses its color and definition in the darkness.
The dog says, "Hey, I wanted to ask you about Roger Ebert..."
"Why are you up?" asks my blonde-haired wife from the bed.
I am sitting on the couch, next to the bed, which is behind the driver's seat in our recreational vehicle.
We are parked in Sedona, Arizona. We have come here to look at houses with the idea that perhaps some day we might live here. Now on our third day, after looking at homes and seeing the sights, I'm up in the middle of the night having been disturbed by a dream.
I'm googling Roger Ebert.
"I had a dream," I say. "I'm just trying to burn off some energy so I can go back to sleep."
She mumbles and puts her head back on the pillow. Maybe sleeping. Maybe listening to my fingers on the keyboard.
Through the campground WiFi I find out that Roger Ebert is dead of cancer of the salivary glands.
Why the hell am I thinking about Roger Ebert at 2AM while on vacation in Sedona?
I say, "I need a dream catcher."
I hear the blonde-haired girl say, "...wha?"
"We pass a bunch of Navajo jewelry stands on the way up to Lake Powell. I want to stop and get a dream catcher."
"What are you saying?" she asks me.
"These dreams are bothering me. Maybe the Navajos can help me get rid of them."
"Sure. Ok. I'm trying to sleep."
Then she says, or maybe I imagine, "Maybe you're supposed to dream about Roger Ebert..."
He died two years ago. I didn't know or care.
Yesterday I watched a movie about the life of Roger Ebert called Life Itself.
Kind of recursive, a movie about a guy who wrote about movies.
But to me, that wasn't what the movie was about.
What it was about, was doing what you were born to do, focusing on that and getting everything else out of the way, right up until the clock runs out.
I bet if you asked Roger Ebert at any point, "Is *this* what you want to be doing, right now?"
He'd have to say, "Yes."
And then never think about it again.
Which is apparently what actually happened.
My dog is old. She's 12. Old for a big Akita.
Her legs hurt her. She can't climb stairs like she used to. She's slowing down. Barks less at deer and passing beagles.
She was lying on the floor in the hallway. I leaned over with an open hand and patted her.
And I asked, "Is *this* what you really want to be doing right now? Is this your life's work?"
Of course, old friend.