Monday, June 27, 2011

Life Is Too Short

Although it didn’t feel that way to me, last Tuesday was the longest day of the year. And, it follows, the shortest night. I’ve had worse of both.

Still, it got me to thinking it was precisely those “longest” days for me that found me shortest on patience. It struck me that a new phrase had attached itself to my discourse: Life is too short.

If you use, or even think, a phrase as often as I have found myself doing with this one, you have to ask yourself a few questions, starting with, “Too short for what?”

The first answer came quickly—too short for some people. You know them, we all have them in our lives. Those “when I’m gloomy you simply gotta listen to me” individuals who drain you; whom your heart goes out to again and again. And again! Those who keep coming back for more—of you. Those who thrash wildly in your seemingly still waters to dodge drowning in their turbulent psyches.

Sound harsh? I’m not talking about family, loved ones or the dearest of friends. I mean the midnight callers, the gloomy Sunday drop-ins at your door. Ask yourself if they ever heed the counsel they seek from you. No point in asking them.

Your time is too dear. Life is too short.

Before we go any further, let me assure you I didn’t come to this quality-of-life conclusion as a result of any recent illness, but decidedly while I was of sound mind and sound body. I started eliminating several exasperating people-predators from my life several years ago, and found the cutting away liberating—so blissfully so, I share the revelation enthusiastically with you.

This is not an invitation to you to share your experiences with the clingers, imposers and sturm und drangers with me. While I’d be interested in your confirming similar incidents of exasperation and exhaustion [See: “Comments”], I’d prefer to skip your grueling particulars; I have my own, and imposing yours on me would render you a second-hand predator of sorts. Writing what I have thus far has made me feel lighter by the word: you’ll undoubtedly find your own way.

It strikes me that I’m likely to be on others’ life-is-too-short lists. Maybe yours, now. Fair enough!

For me, the “too short” yardstick, still novel to me, didn’t have to stop at people. I’d sat in too many theaters shaking my head from side to side in bewilderment over what Broadway and Hollywood can foist on the unsuspecting, undiscerning or simply unconscious as entertainment.

I started considering Broadway’s offerings in terms of shows I deemed I could live without. (Fortunately, I continue to see ones I wouldn’t have wanted to have missed.) I was amazed—you might be, too—by how good it felt to be off the hook, in just one season, for “Spiderman,” "Priscilla," “The Addams Family” and “Rain.”

As for films, a brief flashback. When the venerable producer-director-playwright George Abbott was in his late eighties, he told several riveted listeners he gave a film five minutes, and if it didn’t engage him, he walked out on it. “At my age,” he explained, “I don’t have two hours to waste.” He lived to the age of 108—and seven months… and six days—at work on a new show when he died. Imagine how much time he saved, and used better, over those last two decades! Proving? At any age, life is too short to trifle away.

I took Mr. Abbott (He was that to everyone who knew him.) to heart. I estimated that if he, with six decades on me, only gave a film five minutes, I had at least twenty, but no more than thirty, minutes to give a rudderless or pointless one.

More recently, fortified by my new prescription, I learned I didn’t have to see everything within three weeks, even three months, of its opening. At a Manhattan dinner party, I don’t mind saying, “I haven’t seen that yet,” adding, “I’m in no hurry.” Even if, blasphemous as it may be to other New Yorkers, it’s a Woody Allen film.

The “short” list is as long as you dare make it. Books, the news, politics. Television, radio. E-mail and social networks, and what have you. Separate the wheat from the chaff and, to paraphrase Adlai Stevenson, don’t go with the chaff. A friend told me she was reading a book she was growing increasingly impatient with. “Why don’t you spare yourself and stop reading it?” I asked. “I always finish everything I start,” was her answer.

If you weren’t finding this piece interesting, how could I expect you to finish it? Finding it less, it’s likely I wouldn’t.

Hold on! Please, before you click me away! What you won’t find on Twitter, in government or a Woody Allen film is: Life is too short for any of us to fail to get around to saying the things we should say to each other while there’s time. I rest my case.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Up and Down Time

I won’t be going to Kenya next month. For all who didn’t know I might be going, it will come as no news at all either way.

For a safari or a smattering of Swahili, Kenya would have been a fine place to visit, but the distance between Manhattan and Nairobi is 7359 miles. And that doesn’t include the rides to and from the airports. By comparison, the subway ride from my apartment to the Bronx Zoo is 7.67 miles and 50 minutes away.

I asked others for their opinions, which varied from “You have to go!” to “Are you crazy?” To one friend, I glibly suggested the challenge of “going eye to eye with the beast,” to which he replied, “You’ve already done that this past year… you’re still recovering!” adding his refrain of the familiar, “Are you crazy?” His was the swing vote; accordingly, I
declined a costless, first-rate invitation to Africa. I’m not schlepping to the Bronx Zoo any time soon, either.

Eschewing “far away places with strange sounding names” for the past 10 months, getting away has taken on new meaning for me. I’ve been sticking to nearer-by places. Places where I can brush my teeth with the water and take or leave the animals.

Robert Frost may have chosen “the road untaken,” but the time came for me when the road of choice plainly was the one that offered a good massage around the bend.

Last Christmas, I returned to Mohonk Mountain House, an idyllic, Victorian mountaintop resort 90 miles north of New York City where my family and I spent the previous Christmas as well as many extended summer weekends over the years. I knew in advance I wouldn’t be able to ramble its hiking trails or scramble its rock paths. But I also knew what I could do at Mohonk—loll, luxuriate and heal in its spa, which, among its wide-ranging menu of massages and therapies, wisely includes informed treatments for cancer patients. I arranged in advance for three different massages by three different therapists over three consecutive days.

On the first morning, wrapped in the most luxurious spa robe my skin has ever met, I surrendered body and state of mind to the healing hands of Kelly for a Swedish Massage that included a formula of herbs, roots, flowers and fruits from Thailand (the Swedish Quarter?) and culminated with the damnedest ethereal face massage. I didn’t so much slip out of the spa as slide out of it.

On my second day of Christmas, my treatment was imaginatively more improvised than prescribed by Deborah who, while I was conscious, applied mixes of citrussy oils. Bathed in them, I basked in front of the spa’s fireplace.

All three massage therapists had been briefed on my “special” needs in advance, but by the second treatment I’d discovered that all the frills and special massages offered, no matter how seductively described, don’t come close to a massage tailored to one’s individual needs. Mine were being perceptively addressed.

The order of the third day was CranioSacral Therapy. I didn’t need a robe, or to disrobe at all, for this one. While I lay on my back, Michael, the resident CranioSacral maven of Mohonk, gently raised the back of my head between his hands and cradled it as if it were weightless. I don’t understand what he did beyond that, but 55 minutes later (while my grandchildren were adorning a graham cracker gingerbread house with candy and icing!) I was lulling in the calm of a therapy that turned my mind to gingerbread.

I’d already cleared my prior radiation-stage massages with the chief nurse at the hospital where I was treated, and had a New York City therapist with a doctorate in Applied Kinesiology, a woman who has worked in cancer care for over 30 years, ministering them to me weekly. The surprise in store for me came when I ventured beyond New York State.

Having had more than enough of last winter and aching for a warm-weather vacation, my wife and I chose a 7-day Caribbean cruise—to nowhere, as we thought of it—where “R&R” became for us “rest and recuperation.” Our relatively quaint ship, “the world’s largest yacht,” according to its captain, had four masts and… a spa! Why not a massage at sea?

When I told the manager of the spa, a young Englishman, what I was seeking from a massage, he said he wouldn’t let his therapists touch anyone who’d had cancer before five years had passed, warning how detrimental for me it would be to “move” my cells. He assured me it was what they believed in England. It took about as long to change his mind as it did for me to tell him that I’d had the green light from my medical people and countless massages since, so if he was right, it was too late at any rate. He agreed! And scheduled (“sheduled”) me. I, in turn, agreed to his choice of a “hot stones” massage, more gimmick then substance, I suspected, but felt I had to agree to something.

My therapist was a cockney lass from London. The “hot stones,” though soothing, proved to be no more than I expected from them. My massage was barely satisfactory. I found it disconcerting that my therapist fled post haste from the spa when we were finished. What business could she have that was so urgent?

In the corridor the next day, I observed a familiar-looking chamber maid entering one of the cabins. I didn’t have to be looking up from a massage table to recognize her: she was my therapist! I couldn’t find a conflict of interest in it, but come on!

Back in New York, I related what the English believe about “moving” cancer cells to my experienced-and-expert massage therapist, whose no-nonsense response was: “If you walk, exercise, stretch deeply or scratch your back, you move cells. Anything you do moves your cells. Is that inviting more cancer? And if you have to wait five years, what happens if you only wait for four years and eleven months?” I love logic.

I wonder what a Kenyan massage is like.