Today’s blog entry reflects on a trip I took up to Sydney last week. The first two photos come together nicely: a quiet breakfast at the roof top cafe of the Museum of Contemporary Art is juxtaposed with succulent “flapjacks” seen at the Royal Botanic Garden highlighting the thin red edges and the notion of food found in both.
However, as circumstance would have it, the number I was given when I placed my breakfast order — #33 — stirred up a memory.
At the age of thirty three, I was in central Alaska in a remote village working for the summer as the “saw man” on a fly-in bush construction site that entailed the heavy lifting of many hundreds of boards that were cut into lengths for a public housing project. After ten hours of very physical work, six days per week for four months, I would then run two miles, swim a mile and do a series of chin ups and push ups before dinner. If I were to chart my life, the “peak” of my physical health and strength would have to be at this time. From thirty three till now, it has been a slow dissolve of physical capability.
The next two photos represent the reason behind my going to Sydney. At first glance they appear to be about the infrastructure of community that provides for the sharing of food and drink, transportation, culture and fun. True. But more importantly, they are symbolic of the science, technology and design that sits behind their skillful use in creating a healthier world. More specifically, “my” world.
You see, the reason I went to Sydney was for a bit of liposuction. Not for aesthetic reasons and a vain attempt to get back the six pack my abdomen showed at 33. Rather, it was to gather fat cells in order to turn them into stem cells that were then injected into my knees to promote the growth of new cartilage as well as heal meniscus tears.
Tonight, as I write this blog, my very sore tummy has four holes in it where a foot and a half long steel tube was inserted and moved briskly in and out around for half an hour or more to vacuum up the fat tissues. Yes, a bit of pain, but what this new cutting edge medical advancement means is that I should have three to five more years use of my knees before consideration need be given to having major knee replacement surgery.
If the fundamentalist Christian organizations had not slowed up stem cell research, this procedure would have been available ten years earlier.
Ironically, the carpentry work in Alaska led to the wear and tear of the cartilage in my knees, but the physicality of the work and being out-of-doors gave me a good heart as well as a decent pay check; the savings of which allowed me to support myself during the early years of being a full time artist.
Double the number 33 and the result is 66, the age I will be turning to in just over six weeks. This will mark the beginning of the last third of my life; ending, I fantasize, at 99.
Hopefully, this final third is when a mature mind and body meld into one teaching; where the center-point of spirit and flesh sparks wildly.
But will my body cooperate for another thirty three years? In the health sanitarium, in Rilke’s final illness, he wrote this poem about his weakening body.
Brother body is poor… that means we must be rich for him.
He was often the rich one; so may he be forgiven
for the meanness of his wretched moments.
Then, when he acts as though he barely knows us,
may he be gently reminded of all that has been shared.
Of course, we are not one but two solitaries:
our consciousness and he.
But how much we have to thank each other for,
as friends do! And illness reminds us:
friendship demands a lot.
I bow down to the trees and to nature, but I also bow down to science and to human ingenuity.
As I move into the “final third” of my life, I’m doing what I can to make sure that the wisdom I’ve garnered over six decades will be well supported by a body that not only walks its talk, but does it with grace, dignity and ease.
There is still much work to be done.