I've been thinking a lot recently about endings. This has been brought about initially by the impending move of my walking buddy to North Carolina. It was in April, 1990, when he was in my office, with his wife, for an appointment and in the course of the conversation told me he was in a weight reduction program and was having to walk several miles a day. I wasn't in a weight reduction program at the time, but I needed to be getting regular exercise, so I asked him if I could join him.
My friend only lived several blocks from my house, so he would walk over at 5:30 in the morning and then we would walk around the neighborhood for several miles. Neither of us particularly enjoyed exercise and neither of us had ever been in an exercise program that lasted for very long, so neither of us had any expectations that our walking regimen would last for very long. But we had a couple of rules that in retrospect turned out to be the right rules for our situation.
The first and most important rule was the no-call rule. You could not call to cancel the walk. Knowing that the other person would be waiting and getting pissed off if you did not show, got us out of bed and walking many mornings.
The second rule was "Just do it," and I like to think we came up with that slogan before Nike popularized it, but that is probably revisionism. By "Just do it," we meant that we did not beat ourselves up about doing it better. Over the years we saw many fast-stepping swivel-hipping walkers go scooting by every morning for a few weeks or months and then disappear. We figured if we made it too hard on ourselves, we would quit. So, we ambled, and over the years got our amble up to a stroll, and then maybe even up to a pretty good clip, but there were always walkers who went faster. We were never motivated to walk in the rain, and, in the early years, even high humidity might be enough to give ourselves permission to go to breakfast, but we kept at it. In the winter, we went indoors and walked in the Armory at the big U. nearby.
My friend is very conservative, and although he denies it, a rock-ribbed Republican (he thinks he's an independent but he has a Republican mindset.) That probably helped keep us going too, because there was always something to argue about and before we knew it we had finished our prescribed course.
We never got to the point where we enjoyed walking, at least we wouldn't admit to it. Gung-ho exercisers would say, "But don't you feel better after walking?" and we would reply, "No, we just feel tired." We would muse, ruefully, sometimes about how long we had been doing this and when the morning would come when we would just not do it anymore. We would speculate that maybe the time would come when we would race our wheel chairs around the Armory track, although not so fast as to get too tired out.
But nothing lasts forever, and after 17 years, our walking regimen is about to end. My friend is moving to North Carolina in two weeks and our walking will be no more. I'm going to keep doing it and we've made other walking buddies along the way, so I'll probably always have someone to talk with, but it won't be the same.
The realization that all things must end has also been brought to the forefront by my friend, Brent's realization that he is about to die of cancer. Brent is 46 years old; has a wife and two young sons and has a rare form of fast acting cancer that will likely take his life very quickly. I have been inspired by his clear headedness in the face of this tragedy; his refusal to "gild the lily," but to accept what is inevitable with dignity and grace. I hope that when my time comes and that time will come for all of us, I can face my demise with the same acceptance that Brent has demonstrated.
Part of being human is to feel emotionally, although intellectually we know differently, like things will always continue as they are. We will always be young; we will always be healthy; we will always be happy. Things change; they always change. For people in unfortunate circumstances the fact that things change is their blessing; for we who are blessed, it is our curse. All things must end.