Something Permanent (II)

I’m getting ready to turn thirty in about two weeks.  Thirty is a significant milestone for a man–I say man because men live, on average, shorter lifespans than women.  So, it makes sense that thirty is a reflective year for a lot of men–myself included–especially when the average age of death for a man is about 68 years old.  That makes thirty-four that halfway mark for a lot of guys out there.

In this reflective time in my life, I can admit that my feelings toward physical things is also carried through to my feelings of my physical body–I want permanence.  I wish my body came with a 100 year guarantee, but the truth is, it doesn’t.  At thirty, I am already beginning to see that this body of mine is not a permanent home for my soul.  So, I’m not going to even try to bury my head in a bunch of actions that will lead to immortality–the body just doesn’t last forever.

In the last year, I have had more members of my family pass away than ever before in my life.  My uncle’s liver literally wore out and he died–and we miss him.  These bodies we have are very fragile things, when we think of them over the span of time.

It seems when we are on the verge of losing something that we appreciate it the most.  I now appreciate my eye sight more than I ever have.  About two years ago, I noticed something in the peripherals of my vision–it always seemed like it was a gnat buzzing around my head–you know how annoying they can be.

It wasn’t a gnat.  Early one afternoon, as the sunlight was beaming in through the sliding glass door, I squinted and I could make out what looked like some kind of micro-organism with a long tail–like from biology textbook.  It didn’t move until I moved my eyes, and even then I could tell that it was being jerked around by me and not making any independent movement on its own.

They are called floaters.  They occur naturally to almost everyone, if they live long enough.  They are simply pieces of protein that accumulate and break off inside the eye.  They float in the liquid and get in between the light coming into the eye and the retina that receives the light–think solar eclipse, but with really small moons.  They are harmless–annoying–but harmless.  In very rare cases, they can prelude retinal detachment–you go blind–but if you immediately go to the hospital, they can reattach your retina.  So, I just have to keep that in mind.

The problem is, until my vision gets worse with age, I will continue to notice these floating proteins for years.  I am a little younger than the average age for typical floater onset (ages 50-75), but I now see it as a good thing.  It is a humbling experience that I needed.

I say this because at twenty-nine, moving toward thirty, I am just coming into my prime.  I feel physically and mentally better than I have ever felt in my life–yes, even better than when I was a teenager.  My feelings tell me that I will feel this good for the rest of my life–my dad told me that it doesn’t last forever.  From experiencing the invincible feeling of my prime, I can understand why some men take such huge risks when that feeling is coursing through their body.

Seeing these flecks of protein bounce around in my vision is a constant–and likely permanent–reminder that I am a human being and my body is not permanent.  I don’t have to wait through a life of eating double and triple portions at each meal, smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, or not getting my heart rate up for thirty minutes at least three times a week to find out I had control of my health after all.  I can see clearly now (you see what I did there–oh, I did it again), that there are things that will begin to breakdown without my choice being a factor.

As much as I want this body of mine to last, like my prime, I know that–even if not every part of me truly believes–it doesn’t last.  So, if I cannot have physical permanence of the body, I should strive to have the best functioning body I can have while I  am in control of it.  I don’t want to use a poorly functioning body for the next thirty-eight years.

You really do have to take care of what you’ve got.  Maybe some of you out there are in your prime–male or female, we both go through it–and you got an unobstructed prime.  I would encourage you to talk to someone you respect who is ten years older than you are, just for the sake of gaining perspective.  Your body is super important–it sounds dumb to say it–but it’s true and we take our bodies for granted.  Yet, our bodies are the vehicle that let’s us do all of the things we like to do.  You really only get one and you can’t count on science to figure out how to make you a new one in the next twenty years.

I hope that anyone reading takes away that they are in control and they do not have to let anything erode their body that is within their area of control.  You don’t have to drink energy drinks and put that stress on your heart–drink water instead.  You don’t have to eat fast food everyday for lunch, if you are near fast food, you are near a supermarket ,99% of the time.  Buy a fresh baked roll of bread and a little block of cheese–I kid you not, that is what Ben Franklin survived off of and swore by for years–at least 5-7 years (it’s also cheaper and leaves you feeling better).  You also don’t have to listen to others if you ask you to put your body on the line–don’t do it.  Hulking that 200 pound box up three flights of stairs by yourself is a one time event–waking up with back pain will last the rest of your life.  And back pain is a very special kind of pain–I would put it in the category of pain that causes people to contemplate suicide, seriously.  Ask a friend with back pain to describe how they feel.

Anyway, thirty, here I come.  I may have a few annoying flecks in my vision, but I know what my goal is.  Tim McGraw said it pretty well in a song he wrote a few years back: My Next Thirty Years.  As good as I may have been in my first thirty years, I want to be even better in the next.

Something Permanent (I)

This is an issue in my life that is deeply embedded into how I think and interact with the world.  So, I am going to devote a few posts to the subject.

I am interested in permanence.  I acknowledge that the culture, society, and the generation that I exist within are not as interested in permanence as I am, as previous generations have been.  What I am referencing, when I reference permanence is nearly everything I can think of.  I want to start by examining material permanence.

Common knowledge testifies that the physical products available in America define us as a disposable society: fast food, bottled water, single use cameras (not as popular anymore), text messages, one-night-stands, Keurig, Facebook, TMZ, diapers, batteries, sanitary wipes, cereal boxes, cell phones…  Many products even start with the word “disposable.”

I guess I’m different.  I’ve always known it–and I have never been interested in trash.  That’s what you throw away, trash–things that don’t last.  I don’t like jeans that feel thin.  I won’t buy boots that aren’t both glued and sewn to the sole.  I won’t write with a pencil, if I write in pencil I use the oversized mechanical pencil my dad gave me when I was eighteen.  I buy hard cover books and remove the dust jacket when I read them.  I love leather.

As a kid, I was very fortunate in that my great grandmother bought me and my three brothers school clothes twice a year all the way through ninth grade–until I got a job.  As a growing boy, it’s easy to get swallowed up in constant consumerism.  Even in college, I echoed the behaviors of my childhood and purchased clothes–which I didn’t need, at the time–at the beginning of each school year.

I didn’t critically assess my buying habits until a graduate professor of mine, Dr. Desmond Harding, was lecturing about a new idea that came about in the early twentieth century: replacing items you own before they wear out.  When I really thought about it, if it weren’t for vanity, in my college years, I wouldn’t have purchased new school clothes every fall.  I didn’t actually need them.

I felt I needed them because mine were out of style.  So, I began to imagine purchasing a wardrobe that would be immune to style.  If I could buy a wardrobe that was always in style, then I could wear my clothes until they wore out–and never replace them prematurely.  Popular fashion fads became clear to me very quickly after this.  I developed a bitter distaste for every fashion commercial I saw.  After all, 99% of what is being crammed down consumers’ throats is simply recycled from years gone by.

I wanted a classic style.  It had to be timeless, yet also me.  I quickly realized that such a thing is not built in a day–as a popular wardrobe can be.  A long-lasting wardrobe takes time–one piece at a time.  Let me tell you about one piece of my wardrobe that should make a statement about the rest.

When I was teaching 6 courses of composition between the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University, I found the limits of the leather messenger bag my mother had bought me before I went off to Knox College for undergrad, over 400 miles from my hometown.  All of the books I had to carry were becoming too much and I worried that the strap would suddenly snap and the bag would fall and my laptop would smash to pieces when it hit the sidewalk.  Fortunately, this never happened.

But, I preemptively bought a new satchel–or rather a briefcase with a strap.  I spent a few months looking for the right bag.  I finally found it–listed on Amazon as “the bag they will fight over when you are dead.”  I ended up going to the seller’s website: Saddleback Leather.  It was a bag that spoke to my soul.

It was thick leather–so thick that it had to be broken in.  It was stiff when it arrived in the mail, so stiff I had to wrestle with it.  It also came with a no-nonsense 100 year guarantee.  My descendants are allowed to send the bag to the owner’s descendants if anything goes wrong with it.  I’m set.  I never have to buy another bag again.  I can use the bag my mom gave me to carry light books and not worry I am going to wear it out with heavy loads.

This is the type of permanence in material things that I am looking for in my life.  Once upon a time, things like clocks and watches came with guarantees to entice people to trust the maker and purchase them.  We simply don’t see as many guarantees as we used to.  There is a growing sub-culture in our society that really does hunger for long-lasting material possessions.  Guarantees would be a great way to not only attract customers and help the environment, but to initiate the change of the culture from think-little-disposable to well-reasoned-long-lasting.