I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, March 6, 2022

How the world ends

Beautiful crocus

I took this picture of emerging crocus flowers on my walk home on Friday after a lovely walk through Cornwall Park. It reminded me that we are now only a few weeks away from the first day of spring, on March 21.

The title of this post has kept coming to me during the past week, as I've watched the invasion and destruction of city after city in Ukraine, as Russia continues what it is calling a justified "military operation" to remove Nazis from power. And all this, while the Ukrainian president is Jewish. How weird is that? But it is not the invasion and the war that I'm talking about, but what it will be like when my own life ends, and the world ends for me.
It is necessary to meditate early, and often, on the art of dying to succeed later in doing it properly just once. —Umberto Eco

 I am quickly reaching the place in my life where everything I have ever wanted to do, see, or experience has come to pass. There is little that I expected from life that has not already been accomplished. I've lived almost eighty years, or even more than that if you consider the time before I was born as part of my lived experience. Married and divorced more than once, but living happily with my life partner today, and having given birth to two beautiful sons who have already left this world behind, I was born into a rather large family with two parents who lived short but very full lives. Numerous friends and family have already come and gone.

I don't come from a lineage that is long-lived. My parents both died from heart disease in their sixties, along with my son Chris, so it's something that I figured would probably be the way I would die, too. But since the advent of statins that help to keep high cholesterol under control, my own health statistics show that I am not in any danger of dying from heart disease. But eventually something will help me over the hump between life and death, because that's what happens to mortal beings. 

The only thing I know for sure is that I won't die prematurely, since the natural lifespan of white females in today's world is around 83. That's an average, with some living longer and many dying sooner, but it's only a few years from now that I will reach that venerable age. Of course, I might actually live to be even older than that, like ninety or so, but I don't think it's very likely. And would I even want to? Would you?

Things wear out. People wear out. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, if you didn't already know this fact, but the older we get, the more likely it is that we will develop an illness and become frail and infirm. For now, I feel incredibly fortunate that I can still stride out the door and walk with purpose into the nearby forest. It's important for me to keep myself going for as long as possible. 

Many of the activities I enjoyed in my youth are not possible for me today, and that's okay. I once bicycled from Boulder to San Francisco in six weeks; I've jumped from airplanes thousands of times, packed countless parachutes, and traveled all over the world. Sometimes I've had to endure long periods of pain in recovering from accidents or illnesses, and I have learned how to do that, too.

The one thing I have not lived through is a war in my country. That looks like it might happen before I die, as the conflict in Ukraine is likely to spill over into other countries, and we might be at the beginning of another world war. It's been heartbreaking to watch the news these past two weeks, imagining myself in the situation of a young mother having to flee to an uncertain future, leaving her husband behind and having bombs falling all around. Simply heartbreaking.

It's not like this is a new event in the world; we have been having conflicts in many parts of the world for many, many years. Mostly I have not been aware of much of the pain and suffering, but in the mid-1990s I attended a conference where I met two women from Bosnia-Herzegovina. They told me of the horrors they faced during the breakup of Yugoslavia and the incredible suffering that took place in that part of the world. I had no idea, and I felt compelled to learn something about the conflict. They went through mass bombings, ethnic cleansing, and more. It was the most devastating conflict in Europe since the end of World War II. Are we now beginning another period like that?

I also learned that one of my favorite actresses from a series I loved, Babylon 5, was born in Yugoslavia and had to leave her country because of the war. She moved to Los Angeles and became Delenn, the Minbari ambassador in the series. Some of you might know Mira Furlan from her role in Lost, but since I never watched that, she will always be Delenn to me. She died last year from "complications from West Nile virus," at the age of 65. She was in the process of writing her memoirs when she died, and her website contains many writings that I've enjoyed. Check it out here, if you're interested. Her last tweet is also included there, and I must share that with you:

I look at the stars. It's a clear night and the Milky Way seems so near. That's where I'll be going soon. "We're all star stuff." I suddenly remember Delenn's line from Joe's script. Not a bad prospect. I am not afraid. —Mira Furlan

Although I have no idea how much time I have left in the world, I hope I will remember that we are all star stuff when I'm taking my last breath. It could be years from now, or today, but whenever it turns out to be, I will have had a wonderful and very full life, with many people I've loved and who have loved me back. 

I hope you will find your own true path and will follow it as you make your way through the coming week. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.


Far Side of Fifty said...

I am "heaven stuff" and that gives me comfort! No I do not want to live into my 90's as I see my parents struggle at 92 and 95. Their friends have all died and most of their siblings. Mom told me the other day when we are gone you will be old...I told her I was old already.
Jesus is my hero...through him we are saved. No worries.

ApacheDug said...

DJan I very much enjoyed reading this. I have my own thoughts involving this war on Ukraine, but plan to share them on my own blog. I do feel like yourself this could become another world war. Just when I think we've outgrown such things... Anyway, I have to say that when I first began reading you a couple years ago, I thought "Djan will never be a ghost, sticking around because of unfinished business. She'll be ready to move on and see what's next." I feel that way about you now more than ever.

Anvilcloud said...

It is natural to ponder our end times and when and how they will be for us. However, it doesn’t seem right to have to have to think about end times for humanity. If war doesn’t end it, will it be runaway climate change?

Linda Reeder said...

This week will bring more information about my physical condition, based on the brain MRI I had Saturday. I will be happy to know more.
But I just celebrated my daughter's 49th birthday with her, my two grandchildren, and my husband and sister in law. They are not ready to think of my dying. No doubt in the next ten years I will have conditions that could end my life. When that happens I will deal with it. But for now I chose to dwell on living as full a life as I can. Then star dust will work for me.

Marie Smith said...

I too have been thinking of my end of time and for the future of the planet for the children. Between threats of war, the pandemic and climate change, it looks so bleak. Sigh…

Arkansas Patti said...

It is hard not to think of our end of days lately. The world illness that has taken so many lives, a possible world war, climate change and just age keep it on the back burner at least. Like you I have done it all my way and don't feel like there is personally more to do. I have no fear of death, just perhaps of the act of dying. Blinking out would be nice:) In a few months I go into my 83rd year so I don't feel short changed but blessed. I am however heart sick at the suffering going on in so many areas. Would love to see peace and health in the world before I blink out. Too much to ask?

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, I hope you have many years left because Eye on the Edge is one of my favorite blogs and blogging has become one of the activities that keeps me enjoying retirement. :-) When I first clicked onto Eye today, the title, How the world ends, made me think about the Doomsday Clock. I’ll bet you have heard of it. Per Wikipedia, “The Doomsday Clock is a symbol that represents the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe.” Currently it is at 100 seconds to midnight. I wonder if the current situation in Ukraine will result in a change … closer still to midnight? Thank you for a thoughtful look at the possibilities ahead of us. Hope you and SG have a fine week ahead. John

William Kendall said...

I had not known that about Mira Furlan.

Gigi said...

Such a serious post today. Yes, these are serious times and we need to recognize them. The war in Ukraine is very upsetting. And I look at Putin and think, "The more he is thwarted from getting what he wants; the more dangerous he is." That said, I am in awe of the Ukrainians and their fight and spirit. Hopefully, this won't devolve any more than it has to - sending up a prayer.

Sending you love - we all need a little of that right about now. xo

Red said...

You do a most important thing in life and that is to keep going. Keep wanting to be active. Keep looking forward. Another thing we have to do is accept our own end. We can grieve for our own loss but while we're here we enjoy things. You do that every day. You also discover new things as in your religious studies. always a thought provoking post.

Betsy said...

My heart just breaks for the people of Ukraine and also those in Russia who do not know the truth because they are blocked from receiving anything but state run media. They believe Putin and his evil lies because they know no different. Meanwhile a family of Father, Mother and child were lying in the street in Ukraine just steps from a bus that would have taken them to safety. My heart breaks.
I am so glad that I know Jesus and he has promised us a home after our life here ends. Honestly, since I have experienced death just before I got my pacemaker, I am not afraid at all. I KNOW what comes next because I have already experienced just a tiny bit once and it was wonderful. I'm so glad of that glimpse I was given. It makes me even more sure of my faith and the promise I have.
I hope this week is better than the last one and we can once again see a bright future for our grandchildren.

gigi-hawaii said...

This is a great post! In less than 4 years, I'll be 80. Most of my family died in their 80s, so I'll probably follow that path. I am not well, and every day is a struggle. But I carry on and hope for the best.

Linda Myers said...

How fortunate you are to have experienced all you had hoped for! I usually try to focus on the things around me that I can do something about. Today that is physical therapy, a bike ride, a trip to the grocery store and a massage. My heart is in Ukraine and with all those new refugees.

Rian said...

I'm late commenting here, DJan, but not because I didn't have anything to say, just a busy Sunday. You asked "Would you?" meaning want to live into my 90"s... and my first thought is No, not if I'm physically or mentally (what's the word to use here... disabled, functionally challenged?). Quality, not quantity has always been important to me. But ask me again when I'm 89 and the answer may be different.
But the world is going through difficult times what with 600,000 deaths world-wide from the pandemic, climate change, political upheavals, and now Russia's Putin attacking the Ukraine.
It makes me wonder if people will ever learn from past mistakes... will lives ever be more important than power and money?

Rita said...

Both my parents lived into their 90s. My dad's mother lived to be 104. I am much more concerned with having my mind functioning than my body. I've already spent over two decades physically incapacitated to some extent (others have it worse). The other thing I have seen is how bad it can be to lose your sight and hearing. Getting to 90 is a crap shoot--LOL! But I am not worried about dying. Got to live every day like it is your last...could be, after all.

Galen Pearl said...

What a poignant post this is. Although I have forgotten to do it lately, for a while I had a practice in the morning when I woke up of acknowledging "I am one day closer to my death. How do I want to live this day?" Not a morbid practice at all, but a reality check about what is really important. You have inspired me to take that up again.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, thank you for sharing her tweet because I've never thought of that image of "Star dust." It's lovely. And i want to look at everyone as being the stuff of stars--bright, brilliant, guiding others from afar, being in a place that's trustworthy and true. Peace.

Friko said...

O DJan, don't give up, just don't give up. We cannot afford to do that. I am even older than you and I have faint memories of war on my own doorstep and if I must go through that again (in Europe we are more likely to be involved than you in the US) I hope I will be brave enough.

From everything you say in your posts I know that you too are a courageous woman and that you will/can survive anything.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

DJan we are all wondering at our age. How we will exit and when but as you mentioned you still have plenty of joyful times ahead because of hope. By the way I am fascinated that you feel statin assisted in lower cholesterol hence lower heart attack risk. Researchers discovered over 10 years ago that statin really makes little difference as the real culprit is caused by over consumption of sugars that covert into harmful fat that statin does not reduce. Statin is the most globally administered drug yet heart and stroke issues remain up.
I love all your introspections and wish I could use blogger more. Eyes get strained. Let’s enjoy the upcoming spring.

C-ingspots said...

Been such a long time since I've visited you...I've missed your thoughts and your writing. You have a nice perspective, and a realistic one of your life. What a nice thing to have done everything you always wanted to do. Not many can say that. You are active and healthy, and as long as that can be said - live on! Share your wisdom with those of us less fortunates who still have a long list of "want to do's". I hope I can see that list come to fruition someday. :) My mom died at 83 and it seemed too soon. I wasn't ready for her to go, but for her, it was the best thing. Now my sister is turning 82 this August, and she is failing. She's had 2 strokes that have inflicted damage, but she's doing alright. Not as active as you, and I think that's her downfall, but that's only my opinion. I myself, turned 62 in January and am legally at the age of retirement, which is mind blowing for some reason. Time goes so quickly! I still intend to work for another 5 years if all goes well, that way I'll get full SS benefits, but you never know what's around the corner, do you? I am starting to plan for retirement and downsizing, and imagining what that will look and be like...looking forward to that next adventure. Ukraine is a bloody, tragic affair and the saddest part is that it just didn't need to happen. Putin is evil and is inflicting so much pain and suffering on a country of peaceful people. I hope and pray for the best outcome, and a quick ending to this invasion. I cannot imagine that knowing what we do as human beings, people still invade other people's countries and start wars. Everyone loses. So sad and I just can't imagine what that would be like.

Adam said...

Pains me to see what's happening in the Ukraine