We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood—it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.”
-Martin Luther King, Beyond Vietnam
And I'm sorry for us
The dinosaurs roam the earth
The sky turns green
Where I end and you begin
-Radiohead, Where I End and You Begin
The photographs featured in the slideshow below were taken along the Palisades Trail north of Calistoga in the Spring of 2015. I’ve written about this trail before, and had planned for the journal entry in which the below photographs were to be included to be an all-around much cleverer one (it was originally supposed to be a fictitious letter written by Robert Louis Stevenson and to feature several of his drawings, including one of a giant bird snatching away his wife), but I never got around to it. And it’s only because I expect to return to the trail this winter that I now feel compelled to post these pictures. I realize it’s a first-world problem, but in relation to completing the first journal entry concept and as with so many other endeavors in my life, I wish I would have struck while the iron was hot and kept on striking until I saw the project through. Alas, it was put on the back burner and eventually froze in the cryogenic chambers of my mind. Of course, striking while the iron is hot also applies to those moments in life in which the window of time is rapidly closing and the iron can cool within seconds: when you fail to stand up for yourself or others, when you don’t help someone in need, when you don’t tell someone the truth, when you let chances slip between your fingers because you weren’t on top of your game. It’s hard to forget the times when you should have done something but failed to, because the possible alternate outcome of your intervention may haunt you. (Clearly, I am no paragon of success, and am not suggesting that I am in a positon to give advice on how to get things done.)
Failing to see a project through is sometimes an issues of time. I often wish that I had a clone so that I could have him stay back at home and get things done here while I went off to work. (And it is telling that in this imaginative scenario I would be the one going to work and my clone would be the one staying back to do creative tasks, which are harder than my physically laborious and monotonous job – to me this means that I’m too lazy to write.) In the Japanese cartoon Dragonball-Z there is a portal in which the characters can enter into a different dimension where one second there translates to the equivalent of twenty-four hours in the real world, so they go inside to train to fight. I wish that such a portal existed so that I could spend more time reading, writing, and drawing. In the book Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, Dr. Stephen LaBerge and Howard Rheingold explain the downside of having to sleep, and how much more productive one could be if only they were able to practice lucid dreaming:
Proverbially, and undeniably, life is short. To make matters worse, we must spend between a quarter and half of our lives asleep. Most of us are in the habit of virtually sleepwalking through our dreams. We sleep, mindlessly, through many thousands of opportunities to be fully aware and alive. Is sleeping through your dreams the best use of your limited lifespan? Not only are you wasting part of your finite store of time to be alive, but you are missing adventures and lessons that could enrich the rest of your life. By awakening to your dreams, you will add to your experience of life and, if you use these added hours of lucidity to experiment and exercise your mind, you can also improve your enjoyment of your waking hours.
For those of us who are not able to work in our dream-states but still have the luxury of free time, we must prioritize the tasks we set out to achieve, taking into consideration how much time we have left before we die. In the epic book and television series Cosmos, Carl Sagan touches on this concept in relation to reading: “If I finish a book a week, I will read only a few thousand books in my lifetime, about a tenth of a percent of the contents of the greatest libraries of our time. The trick is to know which books to read.”
While I will never complete the overwhelming majority of projects that I have picked up but did not see through (those ships have sailed), at the end of the day they probably matter less than how I carry myself and treat others. The Hawaiian practice of Ho'oponopono and Dave Isay of StoryCorps concur when it comes to how people should go about reconciliation and forgiveness in life. In his March 2015 TED Talk Mr. Isay said:
There's a hospice doctor named Ira Byock who has worked closely with us on recording interviews with people who are dying. He wrote a book called "The Four Things That Matter Most" about the four things you want to say to the most important people in your life before they or you die: thank you, I love you, forgive me, I forgive you. They're just about the most powerful words we can say to one another, and often that's what happens in a StoryCorps booth.
Australian palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware identified five themes that regularly surfaced among end-of-life patients whom were asked about their regrets in life, these were:
1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn't work so hard.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Perhaps this is linked to those regrets enumerated by Mrs. Ware, but I would add a sixth one: I wish that I had spent more time outside. I intend to avoid having this sixth regret by maximizing my time outdoors. As a matter of fact, if I can help it, I will not be confined to an indoor environment on my deathbed, for I would much rather pass away outside – under the sun, moon, or stars, on land or in water or in mid-air, or even in the jaws of an large animal. I if I do end up immobile and confined to a hospital bed, I hope my friends and family have the sense enough to roll me out of there before my last moments and wheel me up to the top of a hill or into the forest, or place me face-up supine on kayak and send me out to sea so as to further alleviate the burden of dying in regret.
Roy’s no Mormon and not much a of a Christian, and does not honestly believe in an afterlife. Yet the manner of death he fears does not sound bad to me; to me it seems like a decent, clean way of taking off, surely better than the slow rot in a hospital oxygen tent with rubber tubes stuck up your nose, prick, asshole, with blood transfusions and intravenous feeding, bedsores and bedpans and bad-tempered nurses’ aides – the whole nasty routine to which most dying men, in our time, are condemned.
-Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire