Death and Butterflies

Nobody wants to grow old, right? That’s probably because we know that death comes on the heels of growing old. It’s the natural progression – get old and die. Of course, lots of young people die as well, because this death thing rarely happens on cue; very few of us are prepared, and so it’s always a shock to someone. Still, old age is a sure bet with even odds all the way – you can always count on the same result. At some point, following the process of growing old, we will surely pass away. Done deal. We expect it.

My mother is less than one month from her 100th birthday. She’s been living with the intimate knowledge that something awful is imminent. She’s felt overdue for about 2 decades; living with the idea that “today could be the day.” And she’s understandably torn. Part of her wants to get on with it. You know, do what’s expected of her; and part of her is hoping she’s the exception. She hates all the trappings that come with her advanced state – bad vision and hearing, aching bones, new and interesting bathroom rituals, dry skin, thinning hair, etc. etc. etc. But she loves being alive too. Unbelievably, there are still episodes of Law and Order she hasn’t seen, racks of new greeting cards to compulsively read, and all kinds of subjects to negatively pontificate about. There are sunsets, and babies to kiss, presents to buy; candy, pretzel rods, and new pastries to sample. Life can be a real drag, but there’s a lot of perks that come with it.

I’m old too. I’ll be 70 on my next birthday, and all I can think of to say about it is “what the hell?! When did that happen?” Why just yesterday I was playing softball, and hiking, and rough-housing with the kids. Geez. My son is in his forties, I can barely walk a quarter mile, and if I tried to throw a softball these days, my arm would go with it. What happened to me – overnight, no less? Good Lord, since I’m old, death is probably lurking in the shadows – the SOB.

But I figure this has been a life long journey – literally. I’ve been working toward this since I was born. That’s an obvious thing to say, but apparently it’s also been an unrecognized goal of mine; of every last one of us actually. And even though we had no idea, we’ve all been dutifully trudging down life’s rotten little crooked path toward the same exact end. This little fact of life should have occurred to us long ago, but it didn’t. Life is a death march! Maybe it would have been better to burn out young rather than to try to protect myself from all of this. That’s certainly one way to go – live life in the fastest lane possible, and pay no attention to the mountain-sized road blocks up ahead.

That’s not what I did, so here I still am. And while I really don’t have any regrets, the very fact that I’ve fashioned my own unique bucket list at all indicates there were things I realize I should have done. Not dangerous things like playing Russian Roulette, or canyon diving, but cool stuff like visiting England or the Greek Isles; learning to paint, owning an XJ6, becoming an expert in something… There’s so much more, not the least of which is to have acquired enough wisdom to deal with this whole death issue truthfully and realistically.

Being a paranormal investigator has definitely given me some fascinating ways to look at death though. It has sharpened my sense of the possibilities and dulled my fear of this greatest of all unknowns. I’m one of those people who believes in an afterlife, even if I haven’t a clue of what it looks or feels like. I believe it exists as surely as I believe I occupy the here and now; and that the continuance of this existence experience is mysterious in its predictability. Life itself is a constant – there’s always some part of it that carries on regardless of any outside influences; it is victorious always. Life finds a way.

I guess what I’m saying is that growing old really isn’t such an awful thing. It’s not a good subject to focus on, but it’s not so much of an end as it is a beginning. One day, without knowing when, or how, or why, I will start over in some unthinkable way. The cycle of life will prove itself eternal just as surely as death will be unable to mark an end of it. We are like caterpillars who have no idea that one day we will all become butterflies. I don’t know what life is like for a butterfly, but I’d bet it doesn’t make any more sense to him than it does to me. Ah well, c’est la vie.