Life is Short
I am 15 ½ and can hardly wait to get my driver’s license. I can’t wait to lose my virginity. Will I ever get a college degree? Can I ever have a “professional” job? Will I ever own a house? Can I possibly be a parent? Imagine being married. How amazing it would to be to be a graduate student. Starting my own business, no longer working “for the man.” Doubtful.
Suddenly it is all in the rearview mirror. I can hardly remember the decades. I am looking forward to nothing more than an eternity of darkness.
“The cradle rocks above an abyss,
and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief
crack of light between two eternities of darkness.”
– Vladimir Nabokov
As a child, time seemed to move so slowly. Now the days rush by. Suddenly it’s Friday again. Then, boom, it’s spring again. A few short months ago, I hated the long days of darkness in December. Dark at 5:00PM and not light again until 7:00AM. How long will this darkness last? Will the light ever return? Then suddenly, it will be June 20, and the light will be robbed from us once again as we speed toward the death and decay of fall and winter. Over and over it goes.
In the supermarket, the young people ask if I want help loading the groceries into my car. Though I appreciate their kindness, I want to say, “Hey, fuck you. I can still do 30 pushups and run a mile.” At the airport body scanners, they say, “Sir, do you have any metal in your body?”
What do I leave behind? Has my life meant anything at all? Will there be a huge library building on the campus of San Francisco State University called “The Rick Gilbert Memorial Library?” Nope. After the death of my daughter, no one will remember me. My life will fade into the eternity of all the forgotten humans who went before me.
The only meaning there is, is what I have squeezed out of it. Three books. A wonderful marriage and an amazing daughter. A successful business that delivers purpose and changes a few lives for the better. Other than that, nothing. “Eternity of darkness” here I come.
Who remembers my grandparents? No one, that’s who. Who remembers yours? Did their lives matter? Not at all – only that they contributed their sperm and eggs to the next generation. A recent book, “The Selfish Gene,” suggests that our only purpose is to be hapless vehicles in the propagation of our DNA to the next generation. That is the purpose of all life on Earth.
I am thankful beyond words every day when I wake up and do not feel that sharp abdominal pain that portends the dreaded pancreatic cancer spelling the end. The memories of precious friends whose lives have been cut short by cancer and other killer illnesses are always with me. My dear friend Jim Keeffe lies in bed for almost a year now, due to a massive stroke that left him paralyzed. Why not me? Why have I dodged the Grim Reaper’s scythe? No reason. Roll of the genetic dice. Life is random, as I like to remind people who, with amazing stupidity say, “Things happen for a reason.” No, actually they don’t. No one is in charge, most especially not this non-existent Christian god.
So as I begin my eighth decade, what keeps me getting out of bed every day? Magic moments with people. Lunch with old and new friends. Sitting in a circle with a group of men sharing secrets, humor, and insights about our lives. My blog and my shows at the Dragon Theater in Redwood City.
Like us humans with our sperm and eggs, each little leaf grows and does its job of helping the plant process light through photosynthesis so it can help produce its next generation. Then those leaves slowly turn brown, and fall to the ground. Like us contributing to and carrying on the march of the human species, until finally, we too are snuffed out.
Scientists say some time in the future the sun is going to explode. That pretty much wraps it up. Others say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Guess that would be considered “big stuff.” In the meantime, I hope you can attend my new show June 24. Save the date. More to come. I promise it will be more fun than this missive.