A brief study in time

You were a fool but then youth is wasted on the young. Suppose I could go back. I told myself if only I knew then what I know now without considering that there are always new mistakes to be made. Perhaps that’s just my way of consoling myself over what’s impossible. And anyways, what is life without mistakes? There’s just one thing I would do differently, but it’s too late now.

The doctor put the cold metal of his gizmo to my chest, listened to my breathing. He pulled the earpiece loose and asked me about diet and exercise and when I first noticed the discomfort. He made notes, told me he’d order further tests. He said: it’s probably nothing, Frank. Just some routine tests.

At fourteen I was challenged to a fight. I wanted to avoid it but knew it was futile. So I prepared. I did push-ups and I shadow boxed, as if a few days of exercise could make a difference. I bloodied the boy’s nose and he bloodied mine too. Why were we even fighting? I don’t know. Nothing was solved on that day as far as I recall. This is what exercise is to me and I tell the doctor yes, some as well as that I hardly ever drink, which isn’t true either. I doubt he believes me but what does it matter.

I will learn exactly one week later that I am dying from something I could never have prevented, much less anticipated. And yet. All my life I’ve been cautious and for what? I ought to have burned the wick from both the top and bottom. I think about the opportunities I let slip away for fear of failure, or because the way was difficult. I am the person on whose behalf and for whose presumed benefit my previous self worried and fussed and avoided risk whenever possible. Did I really believe there would be a debt of gratitude? Well, there isn’t.

If only the young understood how they are perfect. Right now, you are perfect. What you truly need in this life you have: hope, curiosity, the capacity for friendship and gratitude and love. I don’t mean romantic love, which is all well and good but less vaunted than you suppose: I speak of the damp blustery evenings where I step into the pitiless weather and find beauty. This is a choice that you are able to make. Just know that most of the things you will lose in this life you can live without. Most things are not important. Time will prove this to you. This is what the young would do well to understand.

I try to put down my thoughts but I find there is both too much and too little to say. The diurnal stream of minutiae doesn’t add up to much when you think on it. I have breakfast when I feel able, sometimes I putter. The hours pass, a tedium punctuated by the scheduled arrival of helpers. I have time now to gather my recollections and really what I wish is that there was more to be gathered, more to be said. I should have lived as if my final day were at-hand. Instead my efforts went into pushing it as far away as possible.

One has to plan for the future, obviously. Not doing so has its own hazards. But the you who plans and the you of the future are not the same. One day there’s the discovery you’ve worked at cross-purposes. You ought to have been taking more risks, enjoying life more, worrying less for the morrow. You did it all for me and today I am telling you No but it is no use.

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