Tuesday, December 16, 2014

your days are numbered

My mind is frequently like a well-picked-over fabric store.

Occasionally, I dig through the remnants of odd lots and discontinued threads to find one of those memories that is concurrently musty and fresh.

That was true last Friday.  In o brave new world, that has such people in't, I shared one of those little gems.  I suspect it was the summer of 1966.  In fact, I am certain of the date.  We owned a motorcycle shop on the hill in Oregon City.

During my summer vacation from high school, I often hung out at the Clackamas County Court House watching how the local attorneys plied their craft.  In the process, a couple of the judges befriended this budding Atticus Finch.  That was what one of my favorite judges called me.

That particular day, I was lunching at the diner across from our shop.  A chili burger.  A cherry ice cream soda.  And a piece of lemon meringue pie.  My usual fare there.

I had just started reading Ayn Rand's door-stop of a novel -- Atlas Shrugged -- because that is what teenage boys do.  As I told you on Friday, I can still remember reading a passage on the second page of the novel (with only 1,186 pages more to read).

Eddie Willers looks up to see a calendar erected on the top of a building at the behest of the Mayor of New York City.

Eddie Willers looked away.  He had never liked the sight of that calendar.  It disturbed him, in a manner he could not explain nor define.  The feeling seemed to blend with his sense of uneasiness; it had the same quality.

He thought suddenly there was some phrase, a kind of quotation, that expressed what the calendar seemed to suggest.  But he could not recall it.  He walked, groping for that sentence that hung in his mind as an empty shape.  He could neither fill it nor dismiss it.  He glanced back.  The white rectangle stood above roofs, saying in immovable finality: September 2.
I felt one of those moments that were to litter the rest of my life.  The warm moisture of smugness snuffing out another ray of light in my soul. 

What Eddie Willers did not know, seventeen-year-old Steve Cotton did.  The quotation, for which he groped, was as clear to me as if it had been printed in the Reader's Digest "Humor in Clichés" at the bottom of the serialization of Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

It was, of course: "Your days are numbered."

Life's circles often draw tighter.  I had no more written about that shard of memory when it came roaring back onto center stage.

Earlier this year, I bought a transparent traveling pouch for the few liquids I take on board airplanes these days.  The dangerous items that TSA worries about -- perhaps, I will get angry and give the flight attendant a good shampooing.  Or, if I am really out of control, a fine reconditioning.

Included in the kit were ten little containers.  I assume they were to be used as pill containers.  At least, that is the utilitarian task I have assigned them.

When I am not traveling, they sit like red-headed Supreme Court justices in a very orderly line.  Each day I empty one -- and move it to the right.  The result is a continuing collage of my life.

In this particular case, a very graphic reminder that each empty vial is a day that I will never experience again.  The events of that day may now be part of who I am.  But they are over.  Never --ever -- to be re-enacted exactly as they occurred on that now-dead day.

I stood there looking at the shelf the other night.  We all know how many days we have killed in our lives.  For me, it is far more than I have left.  But, unlike the drug vials I have not yet emptied, we have no idea how many days we have remaining.

And that is probably good.  Too much knowledge is often a bad thing -- despite what the positivists that litter society say.  Science does not answer all of our questions.  In fact, it often raises far more questions than can ever be answered.

The best we can do is to live each of those days as if it could very well be our last.  To enjoy what circumstances bring our way.  And leave the worrying about tomorrow to those folks who really do not have many answers to any questions.

Each night when I empty another vial, I have taken to asking myself how well I did.  Did I enjoy the moment?  Or did I let another opportunity slip past me?  And did I put a bushel over that soul-sucking smugness that dims my light?

There are always days for us to improve.

That is, of course, until there is not.

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