I can’t say that Paul and I were ever friends, but I knew him well. We went to high school together and we were both active in the same church youth group. We worked on church projects together and we spent time together on long church trips.
So I knew him well, but we were very different sorts of people — with very different friends and then we went in very different directions. He stayed in the little town where we went to high school and I haven’t been back there for years. So our paths have diverged for decades.
Still, it was disturbing to me to hear Saturday that Paul had just died.
I’m getting information second or third hand, so I can’t say for sure what’s true. I’m told he lived with his widowed mother. He was overweight. He was diabetic and he smoked. Saturday morning, he apparently called out to his mother from upstairs to call 911, but he died of a heart attack before help could reach him.
I’m not sure how to process it, because his death says more about my own fears of mortality than it does about any way I feel about losing him. It’s a strange feeling. It feels like a loss, but it has more to do with losing the past than with losing a person.
The bigger thing for me is that it screams at me that I have to accelerate my plans for transformation. It’s not that I have his issues. I’ve never smoked and I don’t have diabetes, for instance. But it feels like a warning. Maybe that’s irrational. Maybe this is just bringing to the surface things I was already feeling. Either way, though, I still know I have to make change more quickly.
You see, I’m unhappy with the decisions I’ve made for the past couple of decades to get me to where I am today. I turned down several opportunities to be married and have a family. I kept thinking that who and what I needed was right around the corner. I thought I would turn that corner and start the life I’d always wanted it to be.
I guess a death of someone who’s roughly my age makes me think again about the things that keep me feeling unhappy and unhealthy. I still haven’t been able to shed the fat I need to get rid of and I’ve become really worried about what it’s doing to me. I know I eat simply because I’m lonely and unhappy. I get better for awhile, but I keep “falling off the wagon” and continuing to struggle. I don’t like the decisions I’ve made to get myself to this point — and I’m desperate (in the literal sense) to bring about some radical change.
If I don’t get rid of the stress and loneliness that I’ve created for myself, I won’t be far behind Paul.
The truth is that I’ve always expected to live to be very old. People in my family have typically lived very long lives and I’ve expected genetics and medical technology to allow me to live long past the age at which my father died this year. (He was about to turn 87 when he died. And he didn’t really die of anything. He just gave up on life and quit eating. His unhappiness ultimately killed him.) Self-imposed stress wreaks havoc on a person’s body. A body can only live with that damage for so long before it starts to suffer permanent breakdowns.
When someone else dies, our reaction is always more about ourselves than about that person. This is doubly true in a situation such as this — when the person represents something to me, but I don’t feel any personal sense of loss.
I know the things I still have to fix before I can get rid of my destructive internal stress. I have to have genuine love with a compatible partner. I have to finish changing how I earn my living and I have to increase my income some more. I have to go back to creating things which make me feel as though life is worth living. I have to get people out of my life who fill the role of narcissistic oppressor. (I’ve realized recently that I’ve put myself into a position that sort of recreates my relationship to my father, but in an odd way.)
Deep down, all of us know the changes we need to make to get the stress and unhappiness out of our lives, even if we prefer to pretend we don’t. (If we pretend — to ourselves — that we’re not sure what to do, we can keep delaying doing what we fear.) I know the things I need to do, but old habits die hard.
For the sake of Paul’s family, I’m sorry he’s gone. But my reaction is all about myself. I have to make changes faster than I’m comfortable making them — this week, this month, this year.
Simply put, I’m nowhere near ready to die. I need to start living like a man who has something to live for. I hope I’m not fooling myself. I hope there are things and people I still have in my future which are worth making drastic changes for.