I don’t know what it was — the hike the day before hadn’t been strenuous at all — but I woke up with my Achilles tendon on fire and my neck/shoulder as painful as they’ve been in I don’t know how long (luckily, I have my first appointment for PT at the Heinz Spine Clinic and Sports Center Thursday). So did very little yesterday, just ambled from library to Wegman’s, etc. home to an evening of ice packs, hot packs and today feel about 50 percent better but that scared the bejeezus out of me. This aging is not for the weak of heart.
So my thoughts on turning 70 earlier this
By Bob Quarteroni
“The days of our years are threescore years and ten.” Psalm 90:10
So there you have it. According to the Bible the warranty on this puckered-up meat package is about to expire.
On Feb. 6, a birthday I share with horror with Ronald Reagan, I turned 70, when the Bible says it’s time to turn intoa subterranean sandwich for the eyeless hungry.
It seems just yesterday I was making mud pies with Joanie Ondish under our grapevine and now look at me: Told by Scripture that my ticket is ready to be punched.
So, how do I feel about this? Should I expound on some profundities, state some nuggets of wisdom that I’ve learned over the decades, impart important truths to those of you younger than me?
The truth is I feel no wiser – no less ignorant about everything – now than I did when I was a freshman at Central Catholic High school shooting spitballs though straws at my friends.
Which is beyond frustrating, since my entire life has been focused on the one and only truly important question we all face: What does it all mean?
Why are we here? Why were we born? What is life? Is there a God? Is the university entirely random? Is this all a dream? Is there even such a thing as reality?
All part and parcel of the same question, the ur-why, the meaning of the whole damn thing.
I was born reflective and I’ve stayed that way.
Sixteen years of Catholic schooling (even as I rejected that religion’s silly rote mumbo-jumbo) early fueled my obsession with understanding a universe so unknowable, so seemingly random, so inexplicably composed of fantastic beauty and evil beyond understanding.
And the following decades were quests for knowledge in a myriad of ways, from mysticism to Zen, from meditation to Thomas Merton, from existentialism to magic mushrooms, from Paracelsus to St. John of the Cross, from the Kabballah to Buddhism, etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum.
The result? Nada. I feel I know less now then when I was making the mud pies.
I feel exactly like the woman in Annie Dillard’s transformational – for me – “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.”
“We wake, if we ever wake at all, to mystery, rumors of death, beauty violence…..’Seems like we’re just set down here,’ a woman said to me recently, ‘and don’t nobody know why.’”
Amen to that, sister.
After a lifetime of trying to understand, it’s no clearer to me now if, in the terms of one of my King’s College theology courses, there is an “unmoved mover” behind it all. Or if it’s just random chaos, noise, interference, indifference.
As “2001” author Arthur C. Clarke put it: “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”
Anyhow, thanks to my limited intelligence I’ll obviously never know the answer. I almost hate to trot it out because I use it so often but it’s so perfect: Alfred North Whitehead’s “The universe is not only stranger than you imagine but stranger than you can imagine.”
And I think that would be the case. Whatever’s going on is going to be so fantastically weird and complex, we wouldn’t understand it even if it was served up in tiny slices for our tiny brains.
It would be like trying to teach the theory of relativity to a flatworm. Not gonna happen.
So, leaving the great profundities aside, what have I learned in my 25,550 days?
I’ve learned that life is both sweet and sour. I’ve lived a thoroughly messy life and I wouldn’t change a minute of it, not even when I screwed up the most or was most heartsick.
It’s been an enjoyable, sloppy mess, full of loves and hates, likes and dislikes, adventures and misadventures; a roller coaster of loud, hard, intense living that is getting to the end so fast that it takes my breath away.
Did it have any great meaning? I would think not, though its memories and illuminations are priceless to me and will be until I blink out.
While the jury is out on the cosmic riddle, I strongly believe there is no afterlife, no personal Bobby Q floating around in the ether for eternity doing – what exactly?
That seems so silly to me to not even be worth serious consideration. No, as the ancient Easter Island proverb goes: We are born, we eat sweet potatoes, and we die.
When the rough beast I am slouches to a stop, that will be it for me. Nothing will be left but other people’s memories of me and a room-temperature husk, devoid of life and meaning.
But I don’t find that depressing at all. It’s been a good run for a little dust mote like me, one helluva ride.
Even though I’ve never found any answers, I’ve never stopped looking and questioning, wondering and hoping, seeking and probing. And that, for me, has given meaning to my life.
On his deathbed Rabelais said, “I go to see a great perhaps.”
Soon, perhaps, so will I.