Half Life

It was an otherwise normal Friday evening. Five o’clock rush hour and steady rainfall added to the already dismal, unseasonably cold cityscape. I was far more patient than I’d been all week at the end of the work day. I made little progress behind the wheel through the downtown area as umbrellas collided on sidewalks and, beneath them, business suits dampened by the March rain scurried like store front mannequins come to life, searching unsuccessfully for an open path around the puddles of the crowded walking spaces.  Caught at another red light, I stopped as if by an invisible net, waiting in unison with other drivers, dictated by the day’s precipitation and double the usual traffic volume. The forecast had been right five days in a row. And, five days in a row, the sun remained on strike, not offering a clue as to its location from morning til night, hidden somewhere behind the harsh gray skies. My windshield wipers provided a strange comfort, predictably squeaking while doing a poor job at their one mission. I’d needed new wiper blades since LAST spring. Somehow, it didn’t seem to matter anymore. The wipers on the non-urgent to-do list, the traffic, the lingering of winter’s periphery, the inconvenience of it all. Everything that was vital a mere 10 hours prior had evaporated and no tasks clouded the space between where I was and where I wanted to be. My mind wandered to last month’s terrific amount of stress. The CFO of our company’s largest competitor had launched a campaign that had broadened the rival’s economic environment, and along with it, several of our big accounts had been absorbed by their smart restructuring. I was assigned as head of the committee that was designed to reclaim the accounts lost to the giant. The grit and enthusiasm of creating an attractive and effective incentive to both draw in new accounts and win back those lost had also waned to nothing. Accounts. Competitors. Projects. I shook my head. Where had I gotten so far away from my life’s desires? I was a shattered human, but, I wasn’t depressed. Far from it. More than ever, I wanted to live. Today, amidst the emails and phone calls, the meetings and dealings with customer service, I’d been visited by “her.” She had no appointment and strolled past my assistant as if she wasn’t there. Unfazed by my initial demand to know what she was doing in my office, she interrupted, monotoned and calm.  “Today is an important day.” I briefly scanned my meetings knowing all engagements had been kept or rescheduled. “It won’t be found there,” as she looked down her nose at my calendar, nearly black with inked-in commitments and little white space. “Today, exactly half of your life has past.” She was dressed in a several long layers of sheer, rose colored fabric. She would have stood out as a misfit with the door keepers of the building. Someone would have asked her for credentials, for a name who could vouch for her need to be in the guarded high rise. Her ephemeral presence proved to be just that and she vanished as quickly as she’d arrived. I stepped out of my office into the noisy, end-of-week hustle…dozens of conversations creating a moderate, incessant chatter amongst the team, everyone ready for the weekend. Surely someone saw her. As my exec questioned if I needed anything further, I slowly shook my head and excused her for the rest of the day. She didn’t hesitate, but collected her things and said, “See you Monday! Have a great weekend!” Weekend. The 2 days every poor bastard in the building was gladly taking in exchange for 5. I remembered reading a fiction novel in high school about the Half Life angel of both life and death. She roamed the earth and selecting whom she may, delivered the message that, as of that moment, life was half over for her host. That must be it…I had been working so hard and sleeping so little, I’d  fallen asleep momentarily, and so, was visited in a dream by the seemingly real being. I’d just hung up with marketing the moment she’d entered my office. I looked at my phone, hoping to prove my theory right.  Outgoing log time: 4:01pm Length of call: Six minutes Current time: 4:09pm. In a mental fog, my eyes darted about my work space as I began picking up fewer items to take with me than when I’d entered the building that morning. Ah, that morning. That blissful morning of ignorance. That morning, as it turned out, would be the last time I awoke to a normal life. As I made my way down the corridor of cubicles, I heard muffled voices directed at me. And, while I saw their faces turn to meet mine, I could offer no response. I pressed the elevator button, somewhat grateful for the set of doors that opened immediately to the empty, mobile closet, ever transporting people to the place they spent most of their waking life, and returning them, again, at each day’s end. In between, they must commute, pay bills, run errands, pick up the groceries, cook, or worse, drive through one of the myriad obesity tanks for a hot lamp burger and soggy fries. A few minutes to catch up on superficial topics with roommates, partners, children, and it was light’s out, until the scene played in reverse and they, once again found themselves in the mobile closet, walking down the corridor to their cubicle, fretting over the slight discrepancies in the report due in exactly one hour. I walked into my apartment. A 26th floor spread with great views of the Chrysler Building. I’d bought this place largely for that reason.  That, and the rare and coveted parking space available to each tenant. I changed into a white silk robe and nothing else. I’d purchased it on a trip to Bali, and rarely wore it, though the feel of it against my skin was luxurious. I opened a bottle of red wine, poured a glass, and sank into my white leather sofa. It was not lost on me, the amount of white surrounding me as if I’d already passed over to the other side. I took a long sip of wine and rested my head, staring up at the ceiling. I felt as if I should be calling everyone I knew. I wish I could have called Philip. I remembered like yesterday, the day he died. He’d been struck in a hit and run accident while stepping out of his car, his body pinned between  his door and the hood of the car that struck him. It didn’t take the police long to locate the man responsible, but for Philip, the injuries sustained proved to be fatal. As I sat in his hospital room, filled with his family and close friends, the doctor explained though it was most likely not needed, they would keep him on IV pain medication, should he awaken. It wasn’t long til he did just that. He lifted his head slightly, much to the surprise of everyone present. His voice weak, the room grew silent. “I knew,” he said. “I knew and I thought I’d made it.” He cried. He wouldn’t be hushed by his well-meaning brother. “No… Twenty six years ago, this woman, she told me…she appeared, she…” he struggled for the right words. “She told me my life was half over…that very day. I was a twenty six year old kid. It made no sense. I’d partied with my old college band the night before. I thought I must’ve still been…” He let out a painful moan, his face contorted in response to the agony of the injuries that would take him in seven more minutes. He had to say his last words. We were all attentive and saddened that though Philip was speaking, he was no longer there…not really…delusional talk of a disappearing woman who’d visited him when he was 26. Philip continued, “She..said, ‘Your life…is half over.'” We exchanged silent glances around the room, wishing we could have him back for one last goodbye. Instead, we quietly gathered around his bedside, we blotted our eyes, held his hands, and each other’s, and told him how much he was loved, that everything was going to be ok. He looked around at all the faces representing the many facets of his life, his face no longer contorted, his breathing no longer labored, the tears now but a slow and steady stream down a softened face. “Do it,” he whispered. He lifted his chin a bit. “DO it.” His weak voice grew slightly stronger. He clenched his fists, arched his back and bellowed with all the might of a dying man who knows he is dying, “DO IT!!” “DO IT ALL! DO IT NOW! DO IT UNTIL…” Philip’s nurse walked in, just as his body went limp. The sniffling gave way to wailing cries from his mother, in a wheelchair and suffering from a recent broken hip, she, at seventy nine, could hardly handle the trip across town, let alone the loss of her son. Philip had seen the same “her” that visited me. And, had lived the next twenty six years of his life with that encounter in the forefront of his mind. It explained so much about his extensive travels, the books he wrote and published throughout his 30s. The sudden philanthropic path he chose over his firm. He knew. He knew what I now knew. And, I didn’t know what to do first. I was 38. I would die when I was 76. And, while, before that day, what would have seemed a reasonable life span was now much too specific to be taken for anything less seriously than the fact it represented: I had lived half my life and each day, I was approaching seventy six. I finished the bottle of wine, and drifted to a dreamscape I could no longer differentiate as truth or fantasy. I awoke to a sun filled room, blinding my already aching eyes, throbbing temples and slightly nauseous stomach. I managed a cool shower and stood beneath the water for an unknown period of time. Maybe 20 minutes. Or, forty five. Time was now simultaneously irrelevant and yet, a perpetually imperative variable of all I said and did. It was a measuring device, a currency, a time bomb. It was a rushing river when I wanted simply to float. It was a caged and patient beast whose padlock would open magically, right on time. It was coming. And, I was not ready. As I wrapped myself in my bath towel, I walked to my bedroom window. I stared down at the street, the Saturday crowd out for their jogs or brunches or trips to the market and I wondered which ones had already passed their half life. I wondered what they would do differently, if they knew that on a regular old Tuesday, as they unjammed the copier, they’d just reached their half life. It hit me, then and there, that every single person who’d passed, had that exact day. The day that marked the beginning of the end of their life. They had less time left on earth than they’d already lived. It occurred to me that every single person making their way to their next engagement on the streets below also had that inevitable day. Some would die young. Some would go of old age. But, go, we would. And, there was a simple, but unknown formula that we could take to the bank…there was a half way mark. And, knowing it would change how we prioritized, spoke, acted, lived. I laughed out loud at the lame and overused phrase, “No regrets.” Really. Really? Let’s tell you when your life is half over, down to the day and then say that with any conviction. I took out a pen and paper and began making a list. I’d always wanted to be a public speaker. I wondered if my message was too plain…that everyone in the audience had a half way mark. It was depressing only if I let it be. It wasn’t for everyone to know when 50% of their sand had fallen, but since I did, I chose to be grateful. I chose to be kind. I chose to be vulnerable and reckless and careful and fierce and graceful and forgiving and generous and selfish and decisive. I would care for myself and others with all the love and attention I, and they, had always deserved. I would make music, and art, and love, and homemade tapas all day on a rainy Sunday and invite my friends over. I’d take mental pictures with my phone far out of reach. I would memorize the subtilties in the shapes of their faces, the sweet, melodic sound of their voices, their mannerisms so distinct. I would listen to my mother for as long as she wished to speak. Her half life would have to have been decades past. How little time did I have? I thought about humanity, at large. I wondered how I’d gone my entire 38 years without ever thinking of that otherwise uneventful day…that day that we all wake up to the alarm, scarf some oatmeal, swill some coffee, sit in frustration in the daily commute, boot our computers, scroll through meaningless emails, return meaningless calls and participate in meaningless events that didn’t even bring us joy because we never, ever stopped to wonder what day that was as significant as our birthday…our “half dead” day. I chuckled. A strange but peaceful sense of unification came over me as I was one with every human who’d ever walked this world…rich or poor, black or white, gay, straight, democrat or republican, boxers, briefs, cat or dog people…something much more basic and much more important united us. If we lived to be 40 or 104, we had a half way day. Not knowing when this was, but that it had likely already happened if you were over the age of 45- (being generous)- what were we doing differently as this thought permeated our minds? Were we as concerned with carrying the grudge to prove a point…with cutting corporate throats to get the sale…with answering the client calling after hours while our kids were acting out a skit they’d spent time rehearsing, just for us? Would we hold the door for someone behind us because it may be their half life that very day? And, if, somehow we knew, would we sit with them over coffee and connect, listen to a story about the first half of their life as they were beginning, that day, the second half? We cannot engage in such touching conversation on such a personally historic day, not because it is not happening everyday, to humans all over the planet, but because that bench mark day that delineates the first half from the second half of our existence is simply unknown. That fact makes it no less real. It passes without acknowledgement, celebration or solemn recognition. Can it be enough today, just for today, to kindly remember that everyone has or will pass through this archway of less life than he or she had just yesterday…to honor, first the heart beating inside the chest of each person who stands before you…the barista, the crossing guard, the elderly lady taking too long to close her wallet and put away her receipt at the supermarket… It won’t cost a thing but a bit of reflection and the realization that all of us…every single one, only has…until.

Peace, Warriors.

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