Dream of Dying

FCF38573-2929-4C13-B491-12CD9E788FD0

It is difficult to distinguish reality in a dream.
Last night I fell into a sub-zero chemical vat.
I fought my way to the side and pulled myself out
as the freezing death worked its way up my body.
Colleagues froze in fear, as the outcome was certain.
She cried, as I gasped for breath
each one shorter than the one before.

I watched his steadfastness and her tears knowing
they could not touch me or death would take them too.
I tried to tell them to tell someone that I loved her
but no words came as I counted my last moments.
I tried to hold on to my last breath, to this life I love.
I woke up frozen in night, unable to move or call for help,
certain that Death had entered my small room
to take me from this existence, this dream I had lived.

A Soul Reader – Oliver Sacks

vcxa8286I had never heard of Marcelo Gleiser until a few weeks ago when a friend recommended his book The Island of Knowledge-The Limits of Science and Meaning. “It’s right up your alley,” she said, and she was correct.

As circumstance would have it, I came across his name again a few days later when I read his response and tribute on NPR’s 13.7 Cosmos & Culture to one of my most favorite people Oliver Sacks. (July 09, 1933 – August 30, 2015) The Man Who Turned Life Into Magic. I was stunned earlier when I read Oliver’s op-ed piece in the New York Times. He is dying from cancer of the liver. This is a man who gave life to so many people upon whom the world had turned its back. He was a man I learned of from a movie before ever reading his books. In his essay he talked about how he planned to live his remaining time on this earth. He wrote:

I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming…This is not indifference but detachment. […]

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

I never met Oliver Sacks. I know him only through the stories he wrote in Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, Altered States, and his essays on hallucinatory drugs. I am one of the readers with whom he shared that “special intercourse.” He not only touched my soul, he opened it. I learned about compassion for my fellow human beings regardless of their physical and/or mental differences from Oliver Sacks. I learned we are all different and to accept what is uniquely different in each of us.

It is from his stories I learned about him, a gifted, intelligent, caring, and heart centered individual. He is one of those rare individuals I would like to sit down and talk with over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. His friend Marcelo summed up his many attributes best when he referred to Oliver Sacks as “A Soul-Reader.”

Thank you Marcelo for your beautiful tribute to I man I know you love. Thank you Oliver Sacks for the life you gave to so many and for teaching me a out compassion. A soul reader is the best human being of us all.

Life’s Last Day

It is a disarming feeling to know I am going to die. No matter how much I philosophize or write on the subject. No matter how much I know it is an unavoidable end for all of life. I am still somewhat unsettled in his presence. I know a little of life, at least my own, but very little of death. We became more closely acquainted a few days ago.

I think it would be easier to face death if our time allotted on this planet was enclosed rather than open ended. We all have a day of birth. What if we were also given a day of death? Would we approach life and death differently. In a previous essay, If You Had 10 Minutes to Live, I suggested we might have discount air fares or special cruises for those who are about to die, but there is also a sinister side to this possibility. Perhaps some would look at this time before death as an opportunity to do unlawful things, to rape, pillage, and plunder without any longterm consequences. What could anyone possibly do to me as I am going to die in a few weeks anyhow? We might take chances and dare death to take us before our time. My cousin Pinto had a dream of him dying of old age with his family gathered around his death bed. He told me this dream has allowed him to take more chances without fear because he believes this is how he will die.

I woke that morning in an uncommon state. My blood pressure was higher than normal. All my vital signs were irregular. I was unsteady and dizzy. At first I thought it might be low blood sugar or dehydration but after eating and drinking the symptoms did not disappear. My entire body felt out of sorts. I was sure this was my life’s last day. How would I choose to spend it? As I did not have a particular plan, I decided to spend it as I do every day I am alive. I could not stand steady in the shower so I sat down and let the water fall upon me and lathered my body. At least I will be clean.

After the shower and getting dressed, I wrote an email to my friends thanking them for their love and support and informing them of my death. I set up the email to automatically send at noon the following day. I did not want to be alone so I gathered strength enough to visit my adopted family here in Loja. Isabel, the family matron and medical practitioner saw me and immediately knew something was wrong.

“My blood pressure is high and I am a little dizzy,” I told her.

As is her healing nature she immediately constructed a list of foods and herbs for me to take while three of her children and I laughed and conversed as usual. When my visit was over, I made my way back home and confronted the eighty steps to my apartment. “Step by step,” I repeated to myself as I was determined to make it to my apartment and not die in the stairwell. My body was completely exhausted by the time I reached my door. I poured a glass of water but dropped it before I could drink it and collapsed on the sofa.

I do not know how long I was out, but I did awaken. I cleaned up the broken glass and blood prints from a piece of the glass I stepped on. The first glass I had broken since moving here over a year ago. I placed a spare key under the mat and wrote an email to Stalin, the oldest of Isabel’s children, informing him of my death along with important information and the pass codes for my computers. I added this to the other scheduled emails.

I tried to meditate but could not focus. I tried to distract myself by watching the television but watching it made the room spin around. I turned it off. I was afraid to go to sleep thinking I might not wake up but eventually I did.

When I woke up, it was 4:30 in the morning. I had not died. I knew this because the neighborhood roosters were crowing and I had to pee. In a few days I would feel normal again and go about my life as I have always done. So it was not life’s last day as I had anticipated. Perhaps it was just a test run. I did gain some new awareness as a result of this experience of dying. My close friends, the people I love most in this world gained greater importance. I have some control over my body, more than I thought, and I know I want to die, when the day comes, in my own home.

Now to get on with living.

Note: The title for this essay was taken from the Criterion film “Youth.” A film about aging, dreams, and memories. I highly recommend it.

On December 28, 2016 I suffered my first serious heart attack. The second minor one occurred on March 17, 2017, one month before my 69 birthday.