Death at the Lower East Side

My close to 3-month-vacation was ending and I was in a state of panic. I had fallen headstrong in love with New York and the fact that I had been given a generous amount of time with her–not the usual one week vacation given most mortals–didn’t ease my panic. In fact, it heightened it because now I was saying goodbye to someone I had more than a  fling with and despite my best intentions of a graceful ‘au revoir’ to the city that never sleeps, I was fumbling most ungracefully at Delancey corner Allen st., beating myself silly for the countless hours I had squandered on Facebook and Salon and Huffington Post and New Yorker and the NYT.  
In the 7 hours left me, I had planned on having a walking tour of the West Village, join a guided tour at the Tenement Museum, do a recap of the MOMA to say goodbye to Van Gogh and ride the red Hop On Hop Off for a recap of the streets of Manhattan I had grown to love so much. At some point, I also wanted to insinuate a Broadway play somewhere in there.
The planned one hour recap of MOMA is a clear indication of my mental state at that time. No one says goodbye to Vincent Van Gogh in one hour. And you can totally forget ‘graceful’. Did I tell you I forgot to factor in Manhattan rush hour traffic? 
                                                                                                                                                                   
Then on top of that I had to finish my shopping in an hour. I told myself one hour would be enough to finish my mile long shopping list of habilins–a fat, blatant lie. 
 
I was one puddle of regret at that moment. And I don’t do regrets well. And because I don’t, I had made a pact with myself early in life to do what needs to get done so regret doesn’t enter the picture in any big way in my space. 
 

If there’s someone I love, that person is going to know all about it–down to the last detail, sa ayaw at sa gusto nya. If a friendship is floundering, I take an almost clinical eye and see if it is worth the time and effort to save it. If it is, I go for it with all I’ve got and if it isn’t, I cut my losses. Goodbye, thank you, have a great life. If I need to paint, I paint. If something needs to be said, I say it. Something needs to be written, I write it. Sing? I sing it. Dance? I dance it. 

 

I think regret is a nasty place to put yourself in. If you find yourself wallowing in regret, I think you must labor to save yourself and put yourself on higher ground—do what it takes to get yourself out of that nasty place, whatever it takes. Say ‘sorry’, ‘I love you’ ‘I forgive you.’ ‘Forgive me.’. Then peace out. Craft a narrative that is kinder to yourself and to everyone involved. 

 

Regrets are the most wasteful sort of self-indulgence because it gets you nowhere and leaves you with that awful gut feel that is so hard and graceless to shake off. And so, for the most part of my life, I had managed to steer clear of regret and was skilled at taking myself out of that mean place when I found myself veering towards it. 

But there on that street corner, I was fighting a losing battle. 

And now that I have gained some distance and perspective, it got me thinking how so like life and death that little drama I was having on that particular day was. 

It got me thinking about death and how elegant it really and truly is. I know of no other more elegant mechanism that tells you to get off your butt and live already. There are only x number of hours and someday you will be in your last 7 desperately trying to cram all that living and sorry, but there won’t any left. End of the road.

Death gives you the imperative to choose because you can’t have it all. There simply isn’t enough time to do everything in the time given you. 

Death asks you to choose your friendships well, the people you surround yourself with.

Do I labor at loves that cause me pain, with people to whom I am nothing to, no matter how loved they are?

Do I give my heart for safekeeping to someone who thinks nothing of crushing it over and over and over? To whom my love is not precious?

Do I listen once again to this emotional vampire of a friend who makes me feel like a garbage bin to whom she must dump all her shit in?

With this one life I have, do I make my work all about the bottom line?

Is this what I’m about?

Or do I want some measure of transcendence? 

I love midlife because death, who once was a stranger across the room is now someone who is more than a passing acquaintance to me. She has, in effect, sat down next to me and gently but firmly says, “Choose. Now.”

She is a most exacting accountant who shows me, complete with spreadsheets, quite clearly how meager my resources are that right now is the time for me to be ruthless where expending the little that’s left of my time is concerned. 

Death forces me to wear the spectacles of truth and gaze unstintingly at the relationships I have. Which of them is to be kept and nurtured and which, by its sheer weight, discarded. 

Death forces me to be courageous and choose the best of what is in me, no matter the odds. It asks me: do you really want to stay in this watered down version of a life you’ve always wanted or do you make a mad dash for for the life you’ve always dreamed of? 

Do I stay in this comfortable life I’ve built or do I risk much and venture out of my comfort zone? What really is life to me? A cushy pension at my end days? This mansion? The imagined or real prestige I get out of it?  

Or do I take life as far as it can take me–right down to the edge where I can then free dive to the vast unknown where all things amazing can be found or do I labor at this dead end joyless job, make myself believe that this is why i was placed here? 

In truth, most of us plod on, choosing the life of quiet desperation we are so adept at maintaining. We call it ‘duty‘ and other nice names and we feel virtuous when we stay in dead end marriages to people we can’t even stand to have coffee with, are not even remotely friends with.

 

We think nothing of staying in relationships that take chunks of our heart and soul and mind and leave us gutted, making transactions with ourselves that take a piece of you a little at a time until there is hardly any of you left over.

 

We take it in the chin with friendships that have long stopped giving us anything of value just because these are childhood friendships or just because it asks of us courage to leave–the kind of courage we feel we don’t have. 

We excuse horrible behavior from family members and continue to keep these horrible excuses for human beings in our lives simply because of an accident of nature that somehow labeled them ‘family’.

We plod on at a religion that insults so much of what we hold sacred because we are too lazy, too fearful to think for ourselves. With our one precious life, we settle, settle, settle.

And we hold life at arms‘ length because it asks way too much from us. Us who are seated comfortably on our butts having an intimate relationship with the remote control/laptop/pc/gadgets/gadgets/gadgets and not even some passing knowledge of our hungers, letting precious hours slip by.

And then someday there will be none of those hours left.

Death says “Hey you don’t want to be that girl on the corner of Delancey and Allen St, begging for more time, beseeching the heavens for time to slow down.”

Choose. Now.

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