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Ode To My Sister

My baby sister died this past week.  She is the first person I've known from cradle to grave.  She died after having just turned 48, being born the year that Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated.  Her passing got me into serious nave-gazing mode.

Her name was Laetitia, Latin for "cause of joy," and Jane, after my childless godmother.  She married for the first time in her mid 40s, and never had children.  She followed Martha Stewart and loved to entertain with lavish dinner parties.  She was, other than me, the only grandchild who learned my grandmother's traditional Irish and Welsh recipes.  She was, in short, my favorite sibling because of her free spirit, though we were separated by seven years and I was already long gone from the house when she reached adulthood.  My most cherished memories with her were "chopping nights," when we would get together the night before Thanksgiving to prepare the dinner in the time-honored way, over several bottles of fine wine.

Laetitia was named after my great aunt, whom I've written about several times, who came to Texas in a covered wagon and taught me valuable skills like cooking and sewing.

Here's what Laetitia's passing made me think...

What is it all worth?  Seriously, what are we wasting our whole loves on?  Take a minute to do some inventory of your life, and then figure out how much of it actually makes a good goddamn in the scheme of things.

Most of us spend our entire lives paying bills and trying to put food in our bellies while trying to figure out what makes us happy and trying to get more of it.  In the end, most of us own nothing, pass nothing along to our progeny, and if we manage to collect a few things, either the government takes it all in taxes or the kids end up fighting over it with the lawyers getting it all.

It's all really freakin' pointless, when you really take stock of it.  The vast majority of our lives are spent working our asses off to pay someone to do something for us in order to free up some time to sit and vegetate in front of the TeeVee.  In the final accounting, all we've done is waste our entire lives earning money that we then give to nameless, faceless corporations who rack it up on a spreadsheet.  Each of us is little more than a blip on a spreadsheet, and when we are gone, another blip fills the gap.

How much of your life have you spent NOT doing something because you were afraid of losing something else?  Guess what?  In the end, we lose it all anyway.

Years ago, I read a novel by Gary Jennings called The Journeyer.  It is a fictional account of Marco Polo's adventures, in which the author traced the route taken by Polo and added his own adventure into the documented tales.  One of the major themes of the book was, "I don't want to be on my deathbed wishing I had gone there and done that."

I took that message to heart.

Because of that one phrase, I've sought out as many adventures in my life as I can cram into it.  What few things I managed to bring along with me have been stolen by ex-wives out of vindictiveness or greed.  A few bent and faded photos reamain in my possession, but that's about it.

For birthdays and Christmas, I've never been much of a gift-giver in the sense of going to the mall, buying meaningless trinkets and wrapping them in shiny paper.

Instead, I've sought to give the ones I love live-long experiences and memories.  I teach because I can transfer information and skills to people who can use them to enhance their lives.  I work in entertainment in the hopes of doing something so profound that an audience member remembers it for the rest of their lives, and if nothing else, can laugh and enjoy some small part of that life.

Most of us, though, trade our lives for pieces of paper that end up giving us nothing in return: electricity, water, groceries, cable/internet, and taxes.  Each month, we pay rent on stuff that we could easily have gotten for ourselves for free or a little labor, but we've been duped into tading it all in for the supposed service of having someone else do it for us.

Look around you as you read this.  How much of what you see do you really own, and how much of it has any value to anyone else but you and a handful of people?

More importantly, ask yourself when was the last time you faced death in order to do something you've never done before?  When was the last time you really tasted food?  When was the last time that a glass of water meant the difference between life and death?  When was the last time you were in a situation where you knew no one, had no way of contacting someone for help and didn't understand a word that anyone around you was saying?  When was the last time you relied on the positions of the Sun, Moon and stars to figure out where you were in space and time?

If you can't remember, then you aren't living.  You are sitting in a Matrix world of your creation hoping that nothing will disturb the quiet, ordered world you have built for yourself by paying rent to nameless, faceless corporations.

We have built a society of shadows and mirrors that is specifically designed to keep us from living.

Oh sure, Pappy told you to save up for a rainy day, but when you think about it, every freakin' day is a rainy day, and if you actually manage to collect a pile of paper, all it does is pay for the hole in the ground that you will eventually occupy.

When Jesus said, "Sell all you have and follow me," and "Be like a child," what he was really telling us is to quit worrying about meaningless chores and get out and live a little.  More importantly, he was challenging us to forget fear and try something bold and daring.

When it comes down to it, how many individual days of your life can you remember?  Chances are, without promps like photos and such, you can probably remember 20 or so actual unique days.  The rest of it is all just a blur or sensations and most of it is lost forever to tedium and routine.  Chances are that most of those days took place before your were 25, too.

We grow up being told to work our asses off to save up for some arbitrary age, say 65, when we can finally turn loose and do something that makes us happy...right at the time when all those trinkets and pieces of paper start going to doctors and pharmaceutical corporations.  And all that effort assumes that we make it to 65 in the first place.  Some of us die at 48.

Suppose we all just stopped working for corporations?  Suppose we stopped paying for utilities and dug our own wells and built our own generators out of cheap, easily available materials?  Suppose we stopped punching someone else's clock and started punching our own?  Suppose the most important thing in life was collecting stories to tell?

Suppose we lived our lives for ourselves and not some nameless, faceless corporation?

In the end, do we really want to lay, gasping for our last breath, struggling for one last minute of the life we didn't live?

When I was in second grade, I had a Social Studies book that had a photo of an Indonesian farmer with a cone-shaped straw hat driving an ox through his rice paddy, and I thought, "I want to go there and do that."

Guess what?

I did.

What are you putting off?

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