Ten Thousand Days

The Half Life of the Human

September 19, 2016
Photo: Marat Gilyadzinov

Photo: Marat Gilyadzinov

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 739 – Day 752)

When I first entered University, I was a physics major and I loved nuclear physics almost as much as astronomy.  In nuclear physics, we have the concept of the half-life or what might be considered the time for an element to decay and become unstable or simply to diminish to half its former size.

Living in a country where the cookie was trumped by the noble biscuit, I haven’t eaten a chocolate chip cookie in some 20 years. The exact date when I last ate a chocloate chip cookie is not something I have recorded in a notebook.  But let’s say 20 years – roughly the time I’ve been away from this city – for argument’s sake.

Tonight, I sat down with a cup of coffee (tea is a thing of the other side of the pond) and a couple of chocolate chip cookies.  They looked sort of like chocolate chip cookies.  They were round, beige and sprinkled with dark spots where the chocolate would be.  They certainly didn’t taste like the chocolate chip cookies of my childhood.  And rather than the size of my palm, they were the size of my thumb.  I think we can safely say that the half-life of the commercially produced chocolate chip cookie is less than twenty years.

But what of the human?

Years ago, I left this country and I abandoned all of my household goods that I did not pack with me.  I gave them to my father because they were my mother’s things and a few old day planners I no longer needed.  I assumed the planners would be shredded and my father would take what he wanted and pitch the rest in the charity bin.  He didn’t.  He avoided dealing with my mother’s things.  When I returned, he gave it all back to me to deal with and to send to charity.

I have spent the last two weeks moving these boxes into my space and opening them to uncover their secrets.  And while they have been boxed away for 20 years, they trigger memories and grief.

Mixed in with the lot are the things I brought from the UK.  In those boxes are my treasures, including photos and journals from long ago that I haven’t read since they were written, but which I could never bear to shred.

Friends say I talk a lot about death and not having much time anymore.  My mother was my age when she moved to this city, just as I have now done.  And a couple of years later she fell sick.  And not long after, she died.  I was just a teen when she got ill and just coming of age when she died.  It has been probably the single most important defining experience of my life.  And I am smack dab in the middle of it again – revisiting my mother’s things and remembering the sound of her voice, the way she walked, and the crazy pink sweater she always wore.  And in my journals, I am meeting again the girl, coming of age, and so full of dreams and ambition – most of which never came true.  We can add ‘yet’ to that sentence, but there are some dreams that are too late to be fulfilled.

There is a lot of grief in these boxes. It is not only the grief of a life half-lived by being cut so short, but the grief of the half-lived life of the one left behind.

I was texting a long-time friend today while I drank my coffee and we were talking about men as we always have; or at least we have, for as long as the half life of a chocolate chip cookie.  Men, she said, only fall in love with young women.  She continued on about the need for perky breasts and of sexual attractiveness being a thing of youth, for women.

I have known her a long time and I value her opinion. I felt punched in the chest.  Is that it, then?  I am not old, but I am not young.  Is it over for me, then?  Should I pack up my sexuality and my love and put them in the charity bin with my mother’s clothes and other ‘items no longer needed?’

What is the half life of a human?

Is it the time it takes to go from well to ill to death?  Is it the time it takes to let one’s goals get detached from one’s dreams? Or is it something perhaps more subtle than that?

As we think, so we become.  We will decay with time – that is the nature of things.  But the rate of decay is dependant on our inner and outer environments.  I am sad for the girl who forgot her dreams. I am sad for the woman whose life was cut short.  Loss is a part of life and grief comes with that loss.  There is loss and grief that comes with middle age.  But our beliefs shape our reality.

Recently the young SP-, who unwittingly challenges me to face myself and my dreams in a bittersweet fashion, said to me of my dreams: “it’s never too late.”  Whether, from his position of youth, he believed what he said or not, I do.

The half-life of the human comes when we make the decision to let our beliefs rob us of the remaining half our life because we don’t believe that it is ours for the taking, any more.

Photo: Francesco Gallarotti

I am grateful for SP- who not only throws up the mirror of who I might have been, but inspires me to start again. And I am grateful for Addila and CM who remind me all the time that people our age are highly productive and that dreams are just wishes unless they are our life’s purpose. Wishes are not to be taken seriously, but purpose ought to become our guiding force.

I am grateful for the friend who exposed her limiting beliefs so that I had the opportunity to take the time to examine my own.  And, I am grateful for the crazy, messy, non-linear narrative that has been my life.  It didn’t go the way I dreamed it would but it has been eventful and made me the insightful, loving and grateful person with sore knees and laugh lines, that I am, today.  It isn’t over yet and if I don’t fall victim to my mother’s genetics, I have a long way to go, yet.

Joy is hard to come by at this moment and that nostalgic rest break with a chocolate chip cookie sure fell short of it, like much of nostalgia does.  It is a melancholy state.  But, I anticipate being on the other side of this traumatic process and setting off on those dreams again and that will be a joy.

As I look at my mother’s things, I feel that she is around me and that Oneness with her is a gift, albeit one that comes with rust.  My service is to honour the ghosts that this time in my life has presented me – my mother and my youth.  They’re both gone now, but in being remembered, their half life can serve as a reminder that life is short and the end comes unpredictably and all too soon. Although we are in the process of decay from the day of our birth, we make the choice, with the beliefs we choose to hold on to, about whether we live each day fully.

It is that choice which gives the meaning to the half of our lives we have left.

 

For what are you grateful this week?

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2 Comments

  • Reply Urspo September 19, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    I feel my half-life slowly dissipating. At sense at times my life is not going to be a long one and it will fizzle not explode.
    I am grateful for having had it.

    • Reply Tania D. Campbell September 19, 2016 at 3:43 pm

      I hope you are wrong. I think all who are conscious of passages feel this fading in the middle of life. As Bob Dylan said in an interview: He could never write “Blowing In the Wind” now. But, he said, I can do other things! What new things does the half life bring? Perhaps, as you said, gratitude. Every time in life has its forte. At least let us not let it be cynicism. I appreciate you and your wisdom. You didn’t earn that by the age of 18. Xx

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