Monday, May 3, 2010
“It is better to lose health like a spendthrift than to waste it like a miser. It is better to live and be done with it, than to die daily in the sickroom. By all means begin your folio; even if the doctor does not give you a year, even if he hesitates about a month, make one brave push and see what can be accomplished in a week.”
- Robert Louis Stevenson, Aes Triplex
Our grandfather is an inspiration for a life well-lived. The world’s troubles seem to slip off him as a wet eel through greasy fingers. Of all our family members, he is the one we look up to as wise on matters of life. He always seems happy. Born and raised in New York City, he now lives on a sunny island in the Caribbean Sea.
He has a favorite saying. When we go to visit him, we often find he will say “Let’s celebrate!” and use that as the pre-text for whatever fun that follows, even if only a cold mug of beer. No occasion is too small to throw a little party.
When were little, we would spend weeks down here with him and my grandmother, playing on the beach or fishing or wandering around the old city. Those are fond memories.
We learned last week that our grandfather is now terminally ill with cancer. No one knows how long he has. We wondered what this news would do to our grandfather’s care-free spirit. Alas, we’ll have to wait a bit longer.
Here is the twist: He doesn’t know he is terminally ill. His wife, my grandmother, wishes to keep that from him. The doctors there abide by her wishes. The family, so far, though divided on the idea, also abides by our grandmother’s wishes. She thinks he will be depressed if he knew the truth. Right now, he thinks he is only sick and will get better.
Our guess is he will find out soon enough by his own reasoning. He is no dummy. And the stream of people coming to visit him and say their goodbyes is going to raise questions in his mind soon enough.
We suspect he will deal with it as he has dealt with death all his life. He knows death. He knows the scythe-bearer has an appointment with all of us. It never seemed to worry him. He enjoys every moment of the present with everything he can suck out of it.
His favorite writer was Robert Louis Stevenson – an enthusiasm he passed on to us as a young lad and to which we keep to this day. We remember turning the pages of our grandfather’s old Stevenson books when we were boys. Treasure Island, the Black Arrow, Kidnapped! These have magical sounds to us even now, evoking adventures and daring.
Stevenson, was also a man who knew some things about a life well-lived. In thumbing through some essays of his recently, we caught this passage, which expresses a sentiment our grandfather seemed to share:
“A good meal and a bottle of wine is an answer to most standard works upon the question [of life and death]. When a man's heart warms to his viands, he forgets a great deal of sophistry, and soars into a rosy zone of contemplation. Death may be knocking at the door, like the Commander's statue; we have something else in hand, thank God, and let him knock... For us also the trap is laid. But we are so fond of life that we have no leisure to entertain the terror of death.”
Another favorite saying of our grandfather’s is, “Don’t worry about it!” We remember as kids, if we scraped our knee, he would say “Don’t worry about it! You have another one!” That was typical of his outlook. Whatever seemed like an ill wind carried also the sweet scents.
We’re not sure our grandfather is an absurd man. But if the absurd man is a blithe pilgrim on a road that is made by walking, then he is that. If there was a fly in the amber of his philosophy, we never saw it.
Our grandfather yielded easily to the soft influences of contentment. He was happy with what was. He accepted all differences with the easy humors of good fellowship. He never chided us for our decisions in life. He never sought to make us out to be anything. Never pushed us or criticized us. He was just there, the happy rock.
We live in the time that a match flickers, Stevenson observed. So let’s celebrate the time we have. Here’s to our grandfather: May we carry on as well as he!
Posted by Inigo Montoya at 2:03 PM