I, myself, was never planning to get old. I still like curling up in bed just as a kid and reading so very late that I will just crawl out of bed in time to meet the school bus and mama will never know. Ridiculous as it sounds, I am actually surprised to experience dementia and forgetfulness even though loss of muscle strength has already set in as I pass the age (I can’t even say it) of over fifty-ten. So, imagine my surprise when, (because certainly intellect left me for the moment that…) I thought I would escape wrinking, loss of energy and mobility, further proof that truly I expected myself to be an exception to the old rule that people get older, that eventually I will have to be the ancestor myself.
And, although I don’t like to brag, I believe this may be the first “This I Believe” about us all, not just me. I believe that we all believe we are the exception.
Yet let me defend us for this belief, because we likely couldn’t continue if we saw both the past and future and knew everything we were to face. We heard it from Einstein. Sometimes the universe plays dice, but God does not. Thank goodness we can believe the best. It may save us many times.
Apparently we all live with delusions: that our about-to-be-born child will fulfill our hopes and dreams, that our wedding day predicts a marriage that will be perfect and happily ever after, and maybe, just maybe, we will win the lottery. We basically believe we are special, God will hear just our request. Note the prayers said before the state basketball tournament and during a tornadic storm and while waiting for a medical diagnosis.
How and when and where did the distorted reality of our immunity and exceptionality get started? It’s the same philosophy that says ups and downs and problems are not the normal, the mind-set that says conflict is tragic, instead of neutral and natural and normal. It’s similar to the mind set that tells us QVC really has something we need and that bee pollen may be the secret to future health.
Intellectually we know that bad things can happen but somehow we believe in our heart-of-hearts that it will happen but just NOT to us. Lately I read a statistic that a very large percentage of us have a fear of cancer. Yet a very small percentage of us think we will ACTUALLY contract it. We believe we will escape that bullet and others. We are certain that old age won’t hit us just yet and that the car zooming towards us is going to miss.
Further proof is found in the fact that we are constantly surprised by almost any death, even among the very aged. “Couldn’t they have done something?” And when it hits unexpectedly, “Oh she so young, the world will be worse off without him.” Edward Gibbon said that religion was equally true to the people, equally false to the prophets, and equally convenient to the dictators.” Death may be one of the very places where we feed our hysteria and think we will find exceptions.
We go on thinking that the storm won’t down our house (even though it might hit next door) and that we are so special that a brain tumor wouldn’t shop around for our head. My daughter pointed out something far more realistic: “Why should we be so special that it wouldn’t?” Her comment has piqued numerous questions in me. And my son loves pop culture and specifically the movie, The Matrix, where we hear that hope is man’s greatest asset and greatest failure. And here we are, the hopeful and the failing, all important parts of our lives.
The truth is that somebody will be struck by lightening, someone will get celebrity status and someone’s daughter will get the part of the sugar plum fairy with proud parents in the front row. Someone also has to get the rare discase.
Perhaps we should have known. Perhaps we should have been more realistic and realized that life is a mix. That bodies wear out. That winning and losing streaks last but eventually do NOT. That all events are indepenendent. That I can’t ask for someone else’s life and take only the good parts of it. That a mix is the pleasant tapestry we all weave. And that tapestry is big, tall, and wildly differing in all its corners and that the best we can do is continue. So I continue to teach, to paint, and to exercise, often BADLY, with the realization that our lives cannot be saved, they can only be spent. That they are best spent on something that will outlast it even though we go on secretly believing we are somehow the exception.
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