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On Life and Death


I was going to write this week’s column about New Year’s resolutions — you know, the classic lose weight, get organized, and turn your life around spiel. But now all that seems a little trite. You see, last night my grandfather died. He was 96 years old and had lived a remarkably full and fulfilling life, although his wit, humor, and spirit had not been the same since my grandmother died last year. So, my sadness about his passing has been tempered somewhat by the knowledge that he was ready to go. Or as ready as anyone could be. Still, nothing brings your priorities into sharp relief like the death of a loved one — no matter the circumstances.

I guess, when it comes down to it, reevaluating your priorities is just like making New Year’s resolutions, except less holiday-specific and more New Age sounding. But, like I said, deciding to lose weight and get organized seems kind of unimportant when compared to the grand scheme of life and death — even though my grandfather always said he wanted me to lose a few pounds. In classic Jewish grandparent fashion, chopped%20liver.jpg those weight-related comments always came either immediately before or after he and my grandmother had shoved enough chopped liver onto my plate to feed a small country, and admonished me for not finishing it all.

Anyway, my point is that everyone knows New Year’s resolutions are generally crap. The chances of actually sticking to them are about as slim as my grandfather would have liked me to be and the chances of actually taking steps to make them happen are as low as the chances of me ever being a size zero given my penchant for chopped liver. To paraphrase one of my favorite authors, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a normal person in possession of a good New Year’s resolution will have broken it by the time their hangover from the big night clears.

Reevaluating your priorities generally produces similar results — although the fact that such exercises are usually brought on by major life events rather than the arbitrary action of changing the pages on your calendar usually means there is more intention behind them than there is behind New Year’s resolutions. But either way, making behavior-related lists and checking them twice is best left to Santa. And he’s long gone by this time of year. So, this New Year’s I refuse to resolve to anything. Instead of setting specific goals for myself — I won’t drink as much, I won’t eat as much, I won’t make excuses not to work out, I won’t forget to pay my phone bill until the last minute, I won’t procrastinate on my reading, I won’t ditch lectures, I won’t stay up all night before an early class just because a good movie is on TV — I’m going to embrace the New Age roots of this whole reevaluating my priorities thing and create a mantra. No lists, just a mantra. It’s not a profound mantra and it’s not even a particularly original one, but like a lot of people who have been faced with the prospect of rationalizing the death of someone they love, it seems to be working for me right now.

Essentially, the mantra is this: Don’t take anything for granted. It’s short, it’s sweet, and it’s the only lesson I’ve ever been able to derive from the cold, hard fact that people die. It’s just like that Augustine of Hippo guy argued — you can never know good unless you know evil, you can never really relish real chopped liver until you’ve tried the low-fat stuff, and you can never truly appreciate life until you’re faced with death. So, from now on, my mantra will be to appreciate everything and take nothing for granted. DB-1250EF_L.jpg Not my life, not my health, not my family, not my friends, not a single experience at UCSB and beyond. Not even full-fat chopped liver. Sure, it has a few more calories, but hey, life is short, and as long as I don’t take the ellipticals at the gym for granted, a little chopped liver isn’t that big of a deal. As long as it’s on sale, because Papa would have wanted it that way.

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