"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"
"In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again."
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
I play a computer game called “Fishdom”. It’s a matching game with fish tanks, various things you can purchase for the tanks and a timer. As I get closer to the time allotted for the round, the timer starts to make noises alerting me to the fact that time is running out.
I realized one day that the more I focused on the timer, the less likely I was to successfully complete the round. I got sloppy and careless, missing opportunities and potential matches. I was worried that I’d be timed out and the round would have to be repeated and I made errors in judgment because of that worry.
Sometimes I think that we live our lives, as people living with HIV, with a timer ever present in the background of our minds. Somewhere here we’ll find that we’re getting too close to the end of the game and the warning bells will go off letting us know that we’ll be leaving shortly. The timer for us can be measured in years, but it can also be measured in CD4 cells and viral loads, in kidney functioning and liver enzymes. Each one of those indicators can inch us closer and closer to the end.
It was like that in the old days – people did what I call the “T-Cell death spiral”. They’d blank-facedly announce that they lost another 100 T-cells, or that their T-cells were down to 6 or some other indication that they were dying. It was horrible to experience with people: the disappointment and despair as though they had somehow personally failed.
Now, the medications are marvellous and we live a lot longer, but the timer is ticking away. We may not give it our full attention, but like a mental grandfather clock we are reminded that we are mortal and that we will die. One day there will be a chime and that will be that.
Of course, we will die. Everybody dies: it’s inevitable. It’s the dying “before our time” that bothers us. We all prefer to think that we will be old men and women and pass quietly in our sleep. We could just as easily be hit by a car or die in a natural catastrophe, but our dreams are more than likely about old age and quilts and a soft rain outside our bedroom window as we drift back into the vast and expansive no-thing-ness.
The problem is that like the game, if we spend all our time while we’re here focused on the end of the round, we miss the everyday opportunities that surround us. We miss the potential to connect with lovely people and summer days, with snowmen and with daffodils. And if we focus solely on “winning” the round, collecting as many goodies as we can, we again miss the point of being here.
The point of being here is being here.
There’s no other purpose to existence other than to exist. Our existence is nothing less than miraculous, and our connection to everything is nothing less than wonderful. It’s not about earning brownie points for heaven, or collecting things or making scads of money. It’s society tells us those things are valuable. Life is about being in connection with people and the world in which we live: we are here to love, laugh and create; and we are here to weep and to mourn.
We only have one round (that we know about) to this particular game. Whether we leave at 9 months or 90 years makes no matter. We leave when we are finished.
And in the meantime, there are birds singing in the trees…