It was a long time ago. It was the opening of what was then a new medical-drama, TV show, I think it was Dr. Ben Casey, rather than the other popular program of the time, Dr. Kildare. A wild-haired, husky-voiced, old, medical doctor used a chalk board to show the symbols for critical medical identifications to his fledgling students. He began, “Male, female, birth, death, infinity,” he said slowly as he drew the symbol for each. On a keyboard I can replicate birth (*) and death (+), but not the other symbols, though no doubt it is possible if one knows the codes.
Five states of being, or are they processes? The only one that seems possible without involvement of the other four is infinity, the sideways figure eight, the loop that never ends. Without delving into the whole philosophical debate that centres on a tree falling in the forest, infinity would seem to be possible (in my mind) without human observation. Whether infinity has any meaning without human observation is a different matter, but that is also an issue I do not intend to pursue here. I’m more observer than philosopher.
Male, female, birth, death, infinity are the medical profession’s stock in trade. Opposites unite to create new life, you. You may go through the same process in your life, maybe not, but whether or not you’ve helped to create new life, you and I will certainly face death and in that state, presumably infinity too.
When I was young, death was not much on my mind. I had a semi-lurid fascination with death, as many youngsters do. I can remember that as a young adult I never expected to ever become an old adult. I was living life as large as I could muster within my meagre resources, making no plan what-so-ever for growing old. Why should I plan to grow old? Living the way I was living, without care for dangers that lurked all around me, regularly poisoning myself with alcohol and for a time with cannabis, surely I would not live past age thirty or so.
I was wrong. I lived past thirty, then past forty, then I began planning to become old. Thank goodness I finally accepted that I just might become old and that I would need some semblance of income to support myself in the absence of paid work. I did what I could. I get by. I live somewhat frugally, though taking a river cruise and spending a week in Venice hardly seems to represent the extremes of frugality to me. My regular expenses have been low. Even though the government of Canada regards me as so poor that I need special, supplementary income beyond the standard CPP and OAS, I do not feel that I am currently in desperate need of much of any material thing.
I would still like to have a life-mate, and I really want my life-mate to be female because there’s still a little life left in the old sod. There’s a spark in me that seems to be ever-present. But now, in the list, “male, female, birth, death, infinity,” it is the last two that seem to be troubling me with their proximity. I’ve made some plans for death. I have a will and an estate that will be administered by either my ex-wife or my lawyer on behalf of my son. Even though my lawyer assures me that it will all be taken care of, I can’t seem to rest easily on that score. Who will close down the house in which I live? Who will sort through the left-over, material mess of my life? When and by whom will my remains be found? Why do I care about these issues?
What to do? I don’t know. I only know that Dr. Ben Casey’s mentor’s words have been coursing through my mind like one of those brain-sludge tunes that some people call ‘ear-worms’ that annoyingly repeat their simple, easy-to-recall jingles in your head until you are driven to distraction. Male, female, birth, death, infinity – and the juice of life, all of the wonderful, sometimes taxing but always valued, living that goes on in between.
Be gone, medical terminology! I know you’re there. I know that you hold sway over all else, but if I concentrate on you, I’ll miss out on the important stuff I’ve yet to experience. The music and laughter to be heard, the food to be savoured, the movement of my body (and the movement of hers), the very dance of life that includes periods of calm, quiet meditation. That is what I’m into these days regardless of the refrain that has been repeating in my head. Infinity can wait its turn or I can accept that infinity is already with me in each and every moment whether I am aware of it or not.
Bring it on! Bring it all on!