Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Our Final Tabulation

We all know our lives are supposed to follow a certain predictable pattern. We’re born, grow up, grow old and then die. In the ‘Lion King’ it’s called the circle of life. It’s also used to describe life on the African savannah in several books. A similar theme can be found in a Christian hymn written in 1907 and made popular by the Carter Family in 1935. It’s entitled ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken.’

So we usually don’t allow ourselves to think about death until something jars us back to reality. It might be a near-death experience, a catastrophic illness or the sudden demise of someone close to us. That’s just what happened to me.

Sharon’s mother passed away in October. It wasn’t unexpected. Her health had been deteriorating for some time. But suddenly becoming an orphan is tough on any adult even one as strong as my wife.

Sharon’s friend Steve was a very successful businessman, Rotary philanthropist and loving grandfather. Last Fall he was fine then one day he became unbalanced on his feet and five months later he passed away from brain cancer.

Kathy was Sharon’s sister-in-law. She broke her ankle last spring. She had it set then operated on twice since the incident. A couple of weeks ago she died suddenly from an infection. In each instance these deaths were a grim reminder of the fragility of life and the need to live each day as if it were our last.

Several friends have commented about bad things happening in threes. I hadn’t thought about it before now. Of course growing up, I knew about ‘the day the music died’ and the fact that Jimmy Hendrix, Janice Joplin and Jim Morrison all died within weeks of one another in 1970.

I usually don’t believe in folk tales, old wives stories or fables. But after these three deaths occurred so close together it got me to thinking it. Those were three life-changing events, expected and otherwise, in less than a month and a half.

Folklorists say that the belief that good or bad things come in threes is an ancient superstition that remains a strong belief among many people today. Americans especially seem to have a propensity to see things in threes. For Native Americans, it’s fours and for the Chinese, it’s five.

“It’s very deep in our culture in terms of religion – the father, son and holy ghost,’ explained Alan Dundes, a professor of anthropology and folklore at the University of Southern California at Berkley. He goes to comment: “It’s in our names. We all have three names. And numerous three-worded phrases like ‘win, lose or draw’ ‘we shall overcome’ and ‘snap, crackle and pop.’

I think it all comes down to your own belief system. The yin and yang of our universe means there will be both good and bad in your lifetime.  Bad luck and good can come in threes, fours, fives and more. It’s all a question of how you want to process these events. If you’re fatalistic it can be grim. If you’re realistic it’s a fact of life. Individual numbers don’t mean a thing.

What does matter is the simple fact that ‘no one gets out of here alive.’ For each one of us there will be an accounting whether we’re present for it or not. We will all have a final tabulation. It’ll either be on our death bed or done by others lamenting our loss. It will be a tabulation of who we were as individuals, spouses, parents, grandparents, friends and associates. It will include who we loved, liked and impacted. It will be the kids we left behind. Then their kids, our grand-children and our legacy with them.

But most importantly we will have to answer whether we made a difference with our lives. Was our existence all worthwhile to others especially those closest to us? And for ourselves, did we make a difference while we were here on earth.

So far, after seventy-three years of living my life as best I can, I think I’m good to go.

So I kissed my wife good-bye, told my kids and grandkids I loved them and went for a trail run.  Life is good. I want to embrace it as long as I can.

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