Mortality

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I realized today why I have this overwhelming sense that everything is transient. I didn’t used to feel that way. I feared death, like any good neurotic, but for years now I have been plagued with a restlessness that I cannot quiet. Everywhere I “settle” I feel like I’ll have to gather up a little bit of my stuff and get on a plane and go somewhere else.

I have nowhere to go.

I know there are contributing reasons for this sense of transience, beyond the as yet untold core reason, in fact, a multitude of lesser reasons. Consider this, about 9 or 10 years ago I walked away from the only thing I knew to be true about myself, and that was that I was going to be a comic book artist. I had burnt out. Anyone who has seen my body of work understands how that happened… I was insanely prolific. Shortly before that I had lost my sense of certainty regarding my spiritual beliefs. About 7 or 8 years ago I packed what I could fit in a suitcase and a half and left my house for Korea to live for one year. I did that for a second year as well… living out of suitcases, my stuff in storage. After that I went to Chile, also lived there for a brief period. When I returned home, it was to a foreclosing home and an inevitable divorce after twenty years of marriage. Of course after that I went through the BIG transition, meaning even something as simple as my most basic sense of self was not permanent. Since then I have converted to Hinduism AND moved from Ohio to Florida… a lot of my stuff still in storage. All of this combined would leave anyone feeling as though they were not going to be in any one place for long, wouldn’t it? It preys on me. I can’t always focus for the nagging feeling that I’m just passing through.

For years I figured those were the reasons I feel so transient. I had somehow overlooked the core reason I feel so overwhelmed by a haunting feeling of impermanence.

The real reason, I now realize, that I feel as though nothing will last, as though nothing is permanent, is that I had to face my mortality twice in six months. That second year in Korea I was diagnosed with cancer, though everyone who knows me knows this, it had a greater impact than anyone who has not had cancer could ever realize. I remember getting the diagnosis. I don’t remember anything in particular in my mind or heart, I just remember sitting on a chair outside the doctor’s office.

I just sat.

That was it. I sat in that chair. I sat in an oppressive state of numbness, unable to move, not even able to move so much as a thought. I simply was unable to wrap my head around it. I couldn’t feel anything. But I recall that it seemed as though the hospital lights had been lowered on a dimmer, and that though I was in a busy hospital surrounded by people, I felt as if I had been shoved in a muggy little egg, totally isolated. I was facing my mortality in a very big way.

CANCER

Six months later I was in Thailand on a SCUBA diving outing. I had looked over the equipment, and I did not like it. There were leaks in the equipment, as it turns out, more leaks than I had realized. I had pointed these things out to the dive instructor, and he shrugged them off. See, here’s what’s up with that: while I was SCUBA diving in the Philippines I was told over and over and over again by the Australian dive instructors that I needed to relax and stop worrying about everything. Well, the dive instructor thought the gear was fine, this to me seemed like a good place to stop worrying.

Here’s a BIG fucking tip for ya… if you’re worried about your SCUBA gear… stick to that! I learned that day that there is one and only one person between you and drowning while diving… and that is YOU! If you don’t like the gear, don’t go under.

We had gone out on the dive, and it was the most spectacular dive of my life. We came out around a bend that revealed acres of brilliant purple coral. I had NEVER seen anything like it, probably never will. This was the same outing where I saw bioluminescence for the first time–apart from fireflies. Unfortunately I was told to do an emergency ascent because the assistant dive instructor had run out of air, and I was running out of air, too. We emerged to unexpectedly choppy waters, very choppy waters, my vest would NOT inflate properly… it was leaking! And there was no boat! We were stranded in the middle of the choppy waters at sea, me with a leaking gear, and no boat in sight! I honestly thought I was going to die that day… drowning with leaky SCUBA gear on my back! It was hell. I tread water and felt a panic the likes of which you cannot imagine unless you have been stranded in the middle of the ocean with no rescue in sight.

I had just faced my own mortality twice. Add to this that inbetween cancer and nearly drowning, a dear friend of mine back in Akron had died suddenly. It was too much death. After that second year in Korea I endured a few months in Chile before returning to Ohio fatigued beyond the ability to function for six months. Upon returning home I also learned that another friend of mine was dying of that exact same cancer I had! Poor George, he passed, far too young. There but for the grace of God.

“There, but for the Grace of God go you and I
We’re the brightest objects in the sky
Remember, there but for the Grace of God go you and I
Do some good before you say goodbye”
Paul McCartney

Since then I feel as though I’m waiting. I feel like I’m just waiting for something to be over. I feel like at any moment I’m going to have to pack up and start over somewhere else… where I can’t imagine. Nothing has felt permanent for years. I’m restless, and I don’t feel like I can count on anything to last, nothing at all. Now I’m sure others feel this way, but I guarantee… you ain’t really felt it until you’ve stared down your own mortality. That changes everything, absolutely everything.

I am hoping that by thinking this through and spelling it out, perhaps I can look hard at it and begin to feel some peace with it. I would love to look out the windows of my room at the lakehouse and simply feel at home, but I don’t. I am very aware that none of this is going to last, because neither am I.

It’s not all bad, facing your own mortality is one way of opening yourself up to saying “fuck it,” one way to become liberated. Being as aware as I am of the fact that I am terribly mortal, that I will die… I just can’t see spending this life conforming to other people’s ideas about what life or art should be. After all, if I don’t get the life I want NOW… I may never get it. There is some liberation and power in that, in that ability to walk away from their plans for your life, to walk away from their points of view, their expectations, their rules, to instead follow your heart’s desire… but that sort of liberation comes at a very heavy price. I often wonder if the liberation is worth the price I am paying.

I try not to think about it, but it’s there. It’s there in how I almost always feel unsettled, a little in transit, or transition, even. I don’t know how to lose this feeling. I think in order to really live again, I’m going to have to let go and stop feeling this way, but how is that done?

Or perhaps it’s simply enough to once in a while take a kayak out on the lake, lay back and watch the birds overhead as I bob gently on the water… and to be wholly in that moment. Perhaps it’s enough to walk out of my room at night, outside towards the main house, and look out over the lake at the moonlight as it reflects on the lake and think how it’s never been any better than this. Perhaps it’s enough to listen to Harry Nilsson sing “Salmon Falls” and be nowhere else but in that song at that moment. Perhaps knowing what I know about life and death and hoping to forget it and feel settled and secure is far too much to ask for. Perhaps I shouldn’t expect to forget. Perhaps I just need to enjoy the moments as they come and realize that that is enough. Perhaps it’s that simple after all.

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