Monday, May 12, 2008

On Mortality...

I've spent a week thinking about a very old and profound subject. I know I should write about it, but I've hesitated. It seems like everything I could say would be so trite, and so many philosophers and poets have written about it...what could I possibly add? So, I've decided to limit it to my personal observations and what has jumped out at me.

The one thing I start with is my gradual appreciation of my mortality; you know, "we're only immortal for a limited time." That our time here is limited, and that things must end. As I enter my 50's, I feel like I have a good grasp of that, at least intellectually.

The other thing I've been thinking about before all of my latest scares is that your body is a lot like a car. As it gets older, it gets more quirks. It needs more maintenance, more care, and it just doesn't run as well.

So, the MRI results had two things in it that got me to really thinking. Oh, the good news? My pituitary is healthy. No tumor, not even anything nearby. The bad news? A strange "blip" in a ventricle of my brain. Oh, and there's some brain damage in my parietal lobe. It could be an ependymoma (a kind of brain cancer)?

So, here I am looking at one radiologist's assessment, that suggests that if the brain cancer doesn't get me, the Alzheimer's will. (Did I mention that my father's mother died of Alzheimer's?) I had to cogitate on these results for bout a day before hearing a neurosurgeon's opinion on that same MRI.

During that time, I realized that not only does our body change (wear out) over time, we ourselves change in a profound manner. If my brain changes, am I even the same person? It reflects life as a changing experience, where our circumstances and our outlook are never the same twice. My testosterone is really low now, and I see the attitudinal changes. It will change back when I (finally) get some treatment. Who am I, really? Fortunately I don't define myself through my sex drive, but the last few months have given me a significantly different way to view myself.

Suppose I only had an 80% chance of living five years. What is my legacy? What will people remember me for? God, I know it sounds trite, but what will people remember about me 25 years later? (No, I'm not going to answer that here .)

Finally, I heard once that death is truly lonely; that no matter what else happens beforehand, it is quintessentially a solitary experience. I see that now.

P.S. -- the neurosurgeon says that the parietal lobe damage is consistent with ischemic disease i.e., aging. The blip? He says it's not consistent with any common pathology, so he wants more tests. I've decided I can't worry about it; I'll just take the tests and see what happens.

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