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Jan/Feb 2000 Editorials

Life, Hair is Short

by Tom Dooley


 

Last month, I completely shaved my head.

"Did you lose a bet?"

No.

"…well, then, why did you do it?"

To remind myself of the impermanence of all things. A cheeseball answer, but true. Hair can be shaved. It will grow back. Admittedly less of it as I get older, but still.

Speaking of impermanence, it's no longer 1999. In fact, it's no longer the twentieth century. I'm composing this on 01/01/00, using my home computer, which is thankfully still operational in spite of all the Y2K hype.

Last year was a good one for me. Highlights: I bought a home, got to know my grandmother, started a Master's program, ran twelve miles one morning without stopping, climbed two mountains, wrote three new short stories, made three new friends, and saw one of my wrestlers win three tournaments in a row. I failed to fulfill some of my resolutions from last New Years, most notably the ones about using a daily planner or doing a better job of sending Christmas cards. Along the way I vowed I'd never get myself into another long-distance relationship. Tonight I just got off the phone after a four-hour conversation with a woman one time zone removed, and regardless of what I might've wanted to avoid, I'm in love again.

It's both a blessing and a curse that the heart is so resilient, and/or has such a poor memory.

Which is the real reason I shaved my head. To remind myself of the impermanence of all things.

In November I attended an estate auction at the National Guard Armory here in Tucson. The home had already been sold, so all the furniture and art and whatever had been transported to the armory for storage and sale. The sheer scale of the proceedings was shocking: that any one family could accumulate so many expensive items. Antique tables, chairs with lion heads carved into their armrests, oriental rugs, a life-sized cast iron razorback hog, Tiffany lamps, civil war carbines, signed Navaho pottery, fine china… Over three hundred grand worth of items were sold while I was there.

The thing that struck me though was that these items were all so cold and pretentious. I couldn't imagine being comfortable in a home packed full of such furnishings. And yet, they represented a lifetime of accumulation. Accumulation for what purpose? To be sold at auction to a dozen or so antique dealers? It was a graphic portrayal of the old saying, you can't take it with you.

I'm not worried about this situation happening to me though. At my current projected income, I won't be accumulating much of anything besides debt before I die. Which is okay. That's one thing I'll be happy not to take with me. And I'd love to see 'em try to get a bid on my credit card balances.

So yeah, I'm in love again. And my hair is growing back. And I'm going to be waiting for weeks and even months in the kind of frustrated limbo that is the long-distance relationship.

The thing is, it's not all bad. There is the element of anticipation. The element of fasting. I'm feeling what I imagine a Muslim during Ramidan feels. I heard one such fasting Muslim describe it as "almost delicious," that state one gets in while fasting. A delicious state of impermanence, if I'm not stretching the theme a bit too far here.

In spite of my efforts to the contrary, I find myself thinking things like, "If I can just make it through this next week." After all, troubles come and troubles go. All I need to do is keep plugging along, and things WILL GET BETTER. But I know, and fortunately sometimes actually feel, that living that way is no life at all. It's a gross misapplication of the impermanence philosophy to think in terms of outlasting troubles. The better tact is to realize that the good AND the bad make up the very impermanent thing that is one's life.

Near the end of that four-hour conversation on the phone tonight, I realized that if we had been together, in the same room, we never would have spoken so intensely and so long. That this was a very special product of our situation: one to be savored for what it was, on its own merits. Just as right now, as I'm sitting alone in my empty, icy house (the floors are still concrete, the furnace doesn't work, and the lack of furniture suggests an estate sale has already taken place), basking in the silence of my own personal existence and fighting the urge to call her again, has for me a certain delicious poignancy. There are many elements of "bad," such as loneliness, fear, hunger, surprise, grief, jealousy, and longing, that do at the very least heighten one's awareness of being alive. And given how impermanent life is, that can't be so bad a thing.

 

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