Friday, November 05, 2004

That Julia Child Way of Dying (And Living)

A.H. Cemendtaur

Life's best lessons are often learned in the worst of times. Anytime I
am removed from books is a bad time for me and that summer, when I found myself in New York, was definitely one of the worst episodes of my life. Renting a room in Jersey City, I was working at a factory in Secaucus during the day and putting in evening hours at a Roy Rogers, as I tried to save money for school. My landlord had removed the bed from my room because, at the time of the rental agreement, I refused to pay the additional $25 a month for it. I slept on the floor. Late at night when I had turned off the light and lay on my sleeping bag, mice would come out of the various holes in the wall and scurry about around me. I remember my first night in that room, when the mysterious whisking sounds had me baffled. I couldn't figure out what it was. When I turned on the light, I caught a glimpse of a tail quickly disappearing in a hole. Rats! I debated with myself whether to pay the extra $25 a month for the bed, but then decided to test out the mice and see how brave they were. So I switched off the light and went to sleep. It turned out that the mice were pretty timid; they kept themselves at a distance from me. We set up our boundaries. The sleeping bag was my domain; every other place in the room belonged to the mice.

But it was not living with the rats that bothered me; it was the loneliness that was tormenting. I was surrounded by people whose language I didn't speak. They would talk for hours and their conversations wouldn't go beyond their immediate materialistic needs: their cars, their clothes, their shoes. You could scour the whole neighborhood and you wouldn't find a book in any of the houses.

So there I was living in a city that I couldn't develop a friendship with, longing to go back where I had come from. But I could not escape. I had to put in my time.

One day I was on a train that was passing through the Bronx. A man got up from his seat and stood by the door to get off at the next station. The train pulled into the station, the door opened, and the man disappeared. I noticed that the departing passenger had left his New York Times at his seat. I got up, walked to his seat, and picked up the newspaper. I cursorily turned the pages until my eyes stopped, fixed at a column by Ann Landers. That day Ann Landers had quoted "The Station" by Bob Hastings. "Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow is a dream." Cherish today. The message was so simple and yet so profound that it moved me. It set me free like nothing else has, over the course of my life. Tears started rolling down my cheeks. Conveying Hastings' message to me, Landers had taken me from the abyssal pit of misery to the zenith of fulfillment where I could kiss God's forehead.

I felt emancipated. And in that moment of lightness, I constructed my own philosophy about life. I understood my incapacity to control the ticking of time--I am always taken to the next moment whether I plan for it or not. I realized the importance of setting goals; that milestones far off in the future that you want to reach, that shimmering pillars on the distant mountain give a purpose to the journey, your life. But I decided that the long-term goals shouldn't be the only places where, once you get there, you unwind and celebrate; that there should be short-term goals and that there should be daily celebration of the little joys of life. That living today to its fullest doesn't mean living foolishly. That rejoicing in the present means doing today what you wish to do when you'd retire one elusive day. That I need to pursue my heart's desire everyday and then one day just quietly die in my sleep. That's the Julia Child way of dying (and living).

Here is "The Station" by Bob Hastings that Ann Landers had copied in her column; savor its timeless wisdom and apply it in your life—just don’t eat too much ice cream.

Tucked away in our subconscious minds is an idyllic vision in which we see ourselves on a long journey that spans an entire continent. We're traveling by train and from the windows, we drink in the passing scenes of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at crossings, of cattle grazing in distant pastures, of smoke pouring from power plants, of row upon row of cotton and corn and wheat, of flatlands and valleys, of city skylines and village halls.

But uppermost in our minds is our final destination--for at a certain hour and on a given day our train will finally pull into the station with bells ringing, flags waving, and bands playing. And once that day comes, so many wonderful dreams will come true. So restlessly we pace the aisles and count the miles, peering ahead,
waiting, waiting, waiting for the station.

"Yes, when we reach the station, that will be it!" we promise ourselves. "When we're that promotion...put the last kid through that 450 SL Mercedes off the mortgage...have a nest egg for retirement."

From that day on we will all live happily ever after.

Sooner or later, however, we must realize there is no station in this life, no one earthly place to arrive at once and for all. The journey is the joy. The station is an illusion--it constantly outdistances us. Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow is a dream. Yesterday belongs to history, tomorrow belongs to God. Yesterday's a fading sunset. Only today is there light enough to love and live.

So, gently close the door on yesterday and then throw the key away. It isn't the burdens of today that drive men mad, but rather the regret over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow.

So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead swim more rivers, climb more mountains, kiss more babies, count more stars. Laugh more and cry less. Go barefoot oftener. Eat more ice cream. Ride more merry-go-rounds. Watch more sunsets. Life must be lived as we go along.

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