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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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