By JIM McKEEVER
Dedicated to the memory of Caryl Cooper.
As I sat down the other morning in the phlebotomist’s chair, I noticed a plaque on the desk behind her.
“Good Vibes Only,” it read.
I typically babble during needle-related procedures to distract myself, so I told her I liked its sentiment. She thanked me and said life is too short to be miserable or mean to one another. I guessed her to be a few years younger than I.
And then we discovered we share a hobby — we regularly check the local obituary page. Each of us also takes note of the ages of the deceased, who too often are in our demographic. I told her about the recent obit of a guy my age (63) who I used to pal around with but hadn’t seen in 40 years.
Of course, as soon as I got home I went online to check the local obits only to find yet another person I knew — my favorite English teacher from high school, who nurtured my love of writing and reading.
Ever since we reconnected on Facebook almost a decade ago, she donated $100 in my name every year to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for pediatric cancer research. We caught up in person one year at the annual head-shaving event in Syracuse, and I joked that I should introduce her to my friends by saying, “We went to high school together.”
After I saw her obit, I checked her Facebook page.
On Dec. 14, the day before she died, she shared a meme that read, “Don’t waste your time looking back on what you’ve lost. Move on, because life is not meant to be lived backwards.”
Always the teacher.
The timing of her homework assignment couldn’t have been better.
For a long time now, even before the pandemic, I’ve been restless, struggling with an omnipresent sense of urgency tinged with dread.
The same phrases run through my brain in a vicious loop.
“Time is running out, I’m another year older, I still haven’t done this or that, I won’t be in good health forever …” Blather, rinse, repeat.
It can be debilitating, especially the regrets.
A few days ago I remembered I had written something about this on my personal blog, so I went looking for it.
I was convinced I had posted it just last year or the year before.
Turns out it was 2015, just after I had turned 58.
In that post I cited a few examples of my distorted sense of time, of my grasp of when certain events had occurred in my life. I was incredulous that the years and decades had passed so quickly.
Older folks will get this — life used to be at 33 rpm, then 45. Now the turntable is spinning at 78 rpm all the time. Is there a faster speed? I hope not. As my daughter-in-law says of the time-lapse blossoming of my 20-month-old granddaughter, “Please slow down!”
At the risk of looking back (apologies to “Coop,” as Ms. Cooper was affectionately known) so much has happened in the world, and in this country, since I wrote that “sense of urgency” post in 2015.
We are closing the books on one of the most traumatic years in history. More than 300,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, jobs and homes have been lost, and our trust in government and in our fellow Americans hangs by a thread.
The rollout of the vaccines is cause for optimism, of course. When science, medicine and beneficence eventually put an end to the pandemic, we can hit the re-set button.
I’ve been one of the lucky ones. The pandemic postponed a humanitarian trip to the southern border, but it hasn’t affected my health and has caused only a few relatively minor hassles.
Now, the prospect of finally reining in the virus has ramped up my restlessness. I need to get back out there in the world, to play catch-up, to make up for lost time. There’s so much I haven’t done, Coop. But I’m trying to do the homework you assigned and just look ahead, I really am.
How much time do I have?
How much time does any of us have?
Jim McKeever is a co-founder of Sense of Decency. Nothing and everything has changed since his 2015 blog post, “Why the Sense of Urgency? The Numbers Don’t Lie.” Thank you for everything, Caryl Cooper, 1945-2020. The photo above is of the author’s brother Joe looking out at the Pacific Ocean, from Crystal Cove State Beach, California, in 2011.