The flu clobbered me Saturday night. I’ve barely started to recover. As a result, this virus really got me thinking—when I was capable of thinking.
I see my mortality in sharper focus. Feeling so bad makes you feel old. Hell, I am old! Through the first few days, I wondered if I’d ever recover. Statistics from the California Department of Public Health didn’t help. This flu season, California experienced 27 flu-related deaths among people under 65—as of the week ending December 30. What about elders 65 and older? Health departments don’t count their (our) flu-related deaths. There are too many.
I hear my clock ticking. Like the clock in the belly of the crocodile chasing Captain Hook in Peter Pan, it’s damn loud. I wonder if I’ll spend my latter years feeling the way I do now—without the flu.
Brighter thoughts revealed themselves in brief bursts, offering more of an upside. Like the penny dish at my neighborhood 7-Eleven. If the clerk gives me pennies with my change, I leave them in the dish for others. If I’m short a penny or two, I’m covered. The penny dish represents a small courtesy we can offer one another. Of late, I’ve begun to see small things as increasingly important.
Big deals also entertain my thoughts. Basically, I’m not one. That’s okay. Most of us would like to be remembered for doing great things. Few of us will. Still, when we die, someone at our funeral or a local obituary will magnify our “accomplishments” until we’re unrecognizable. At many funerals, I’ve recoiled at the abundant lies spouted to gathered mourners who, almost to a person, must have wondered if they’d wandered into the wrong chapel. I wrote a short story about that.
I’ve long believed we don’t need to do great things to lead great lives. Donating to a hospital that in return plants your name across its entry and all its communications would be wonderful. Modest donations without recognition to fight prostate cancer or leukemia also mean something. Running a program to feed the poor deserves praise, no question. Bringing a few cans of food to a local collection spot each week also makes a difference to people who will never know of you.
In the end, what counts is not a life lived well in terms of acquisition and comforts—although I’m quite comfortable, and don’t wish to mislead anyone. What counts is a life lived with decency and attention to the “small” stuff: family relationships, friends, community in its many forms, dropping in at the blood bank (yes, I enjoyed the donuts), helping visitors in the Presidio National Park find their way to the Golden Gate Bridge.
In a novel I recently concluded, Gold, by Chris Cleave, a 32-year-old British Olympic gold-medal bicyclist experiences an epiphany. Those several appearances on the podium to be celebrated as a world champion represented the only moments in her life when she was connected to the rest of the world. Her drive for gold stripped her of all feelings and doomed any chance of relationships.
Most of us never will receive great honors. But we can all work hard, love others and do the little things that, while easily unnoticed, make the world a bit better.
What you see is what you get. After posting this, I’m just going to sit and drool. And don’t think I’m not reflecting on President Trump’s remarks about shithole countries. I am. Oh, yes.
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