Stay in the moment. Don’t pity yourself. Don’t dwell on the likelihood that otherwise you would be a good bet to live into your eighties. Keep in mind you came reasonably close to dying at thirteen, in a tiny solo sailboat in Bellingham Bay, with scarcely a clue of how to sail. And that six years later, on a December road trip to Bozeman, Montana, you made the mistake of departing on the second morning before dawn, in order to reach Bozeman before nightfall. It was still dark when you hit the patch of black ice, at Fourth of July Pass, high in the Idaho Panhandle. Your friend braced his arms against the dashboard as you tried, and failed, to steer against the skid, before slamming into a snowbank, at the lip of a ravine. Keep in mind how the highway maintenance guy who dragged your Mustang away from the abyss remarked, matter-of-factly, “Last week some guy got his neck broke.”
Take the long view of things. William Shakespeare died at age fifty-two, after compiling a stupendous body of great writing. Did his friends lament a life cut short? In Shakespeare’s time, the average lifespan was forty-two years. Shakespeare died an old man.
Exercise daily. Drive the blood to the brain. Swim at least twice a week. Bicycle regularly (but not when streets are sheathed with ice). Walk vigorously. Jaywalk only when you are confident you will not be cut down. Avoid swiveling around cars like a running back bursting into the secondary.
Write down your thoughts before they evaporate. Keep a notepad and pen nearby at all times.
Maintain a lid on your temper. It’s nice that you no longer need to spend ten hours away from home each weekday, but perhaps spouses were not designed to be around each other constantly? Do not overreact to irritating tendencies—yours and those of loved ones. Above all, practice self-honesty. Meditate regularly. Don’t delude yourself about your decline. Give thanks for experiencing little or no decline in your writing abilities. Maintain the hope that this will remain the case for many years to come.
Read aggressively. Keep in mind this curious passage from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot: “This man had once been led to a scaffold, along with others, and a sentence of death by firing squad had been read out to him, for a political crime. After about twenty minutes a pardon was read out to him, and he was given a lesser degree of punishment; nevertheless, in the space between those two sentences, or a quarter of an hour at the least, he lived under the certain conviction that in a few minutes he would certainly die.” When the convicted man believed he had only five minutes left, time seemed to slow down in a big way. “He said those five minutes seemed like an endless time to him, an enormous wealth. It seemed to him in those five minutes he would live so many lives that there was no point yet in making arrangements…. He was dying at the age of twenty-seven, healthy and strong; bidding farewell to his comrades, he remembered asking one of them a rather irrelevant question and even being very interested in the answer.”
Attend church regularly, and listen attentively. Value pew time as a refuge from consumer culture. Don’t get hung up on ossified doctrine. Read up on Emerson and the other Transcendentalists. Appreciate the simplicity of Pascal’s wager, the gist of which is that living a moral life can serve as a celestial insurance policy – should God, to my surprise, reveal himself.
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