Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Friday, September 22, 2006

Back to My Real Life, With an Even More Fierce Intention to Live Well

And by living well, I don't mean trying to collect some designer goods, like a Gucci nose hair trimmer or a Tiffany cat food bowl. (Although I must admit to occasional daydreams of owning a solid gold K-Tel Pocket Fisherman. Why doesn't Ron Popeil answer my calls?)

I mean I need to live well.

I spent 3 days with the World War II vets and their wives. It was not easy. I tried to savor the time and to take that pain that I felt when I saw them hobbling around and put it in a mental safe deposit box to unlock later. But the sadness was unavoidable. They're such phenomenal guys, and they're fighting all kinds of illnesses and the general chronic fatigue of the elderly and it twisted me up to witness it.

Tom, a retired judge, is stooped over almost in half with osteoporosis. The latest development is an aortal aneurysm his doctor found on an ulstrasound the day before the army reunion. Tom's wife told him they could still go, as long as he sat and rested the whole time he was there. Normally he gets up to sing a solo during the sing-along on the night of the banquet. But he was out of wind.

Art, a former butcher who used to brag about his "million dollar thumb" (used to discreetly add weight to the meat scale) has, out of the blue, taken up smoking cheap, heinously smelly cigars, and has, for the most part, stopped speaking. His wife tells him what to wear and where to sit and watches him all the time. My mom said "I feel sorry for her. She's in the same boat I am."

Only 8 men made it to the reunion this year. One of them was in attendance for the very first time. He was a nice surprise. The 85-year-old new kid.

Each year, on the morning of the last day of the reunion, there is a business meeting to decide on the plans for next year. In an odd ritual, this meeting invariably takes three hours and the result for the past 5 years has been the same: Charlie will be in charge again next time, and we'll come back to the same motel. Again.

But this year there was an added guideline. It was decided that the reunion will take place next year only if at least 5 guys can come to it. If you had seen the 8 there this time, you would see the chances of another reunion happening as extremely remote.

Late at night, after all the vets were sleeping, I would debrief by talking to my fiance. While I sat in the stairwell on my cell phone, filling him in on the day, we got that umistakable feeling of "Pay attention. These are the good years." A sticky note from the universe saying "Don't bitch about anything. You're healthy. Shut up and live."

Those who know Candy Rant well know that if bitching were an Olympic sport, I would disintegrate even the surly Russian thug-girls. The really seething ones, no doubt angry from waiting in endless lines for hand razors and vodka. But I could perhaps drop down to the bronze medal next time.

It's not like I don't pay attention. I do. It's just that after I've been to that reunion I feel the urgent need to hold a big magnifying glass over my life so I don't miss even a speck. And to keep in mind that it can all be gone instantly, but to somehow use that mindfulness to savor life, not to imagine every possible horror that could happen. It's a tricky balance.

There was another small group of WWII vets at our motel. They served on the U.S.S. Thatcher, which was the target of not one, but two kamikaze attacks. One guy had on a hat that read "Kamikaze Survivor - USS Thatcher." That carries slightly more weight than the hats on campus that say "I survived Spring Break 2006."

When my dad was serving in Finchaven, New Guinea, the big treat was movie night. He and a group of about 500 were watching a movie on the beach, on a set-up screen. (The movie: “Checkers” starring Jane Withers.) ((I got all these details from him years ago.)) A Japanese plane dropped a bomb on the beach.

“We heard him pull out,” Dad says. “4 people on the front row died, but the screen was still standing.” It was terrifying. They all scattered. When I asked him-- being of the let's-talk-about-it baby boomer generation-- if they gathered afterward to talk or something, he said “No, we went back to our pup tents.” I'm guessing he got out my mom's latest letter and read it for comfort.

“How many times would you read each one?” I asked him once.

He said “Till I got another one.”

4 Comments:

  • At 4:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Spock said it best, "Live Well and Prosper". Perhaps it would be best if we all remembered that.

     
  • At 8:58 PM, Anonymous Scott P said…

    ..."Pay attention. These are the good years."...

    Yep. Sometimes I'm not as aware of that as I should be.

     
  • At 11:09 PM, Anonymous JWebb said…

    EVERY day on this side of the grass is a good day.

     
  • At 12:00 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Indeed. Every day is another chance to try to prosper. On this side of the grass. And there are all kinds of prosperity.

    I could go for an entire Boston Creme Pie at the moment.

     

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