It All Fades Away in the End

This blog isn’t just about money, it’s about how money is so tied into the life we lead, our morals, our contentment, our journeys. I write a lot about investing and income here, but also, I like to write about the meaning of life. Perhaps that’s because my grandfather was a Rabbi, and it’s hard for me to isolate talk of earning from my own philosophizing. Nothing ties the two together more than art, an expensive hobby as both participant and viewer.

A good work of art moves you once, a great work of art continues to move you long after you’ve parted ways with its formal presence. Musicals are unique in that while the storyline might not stick with you, a great score in its own right can slither into your thoughts for a long time to come.

Too many musicals these days are designed to purely entertain and not get you to that cathartic state that art is all about. But, as I wrote the other day, my recent entanglement with Bridges of Madison County (which closed today, WTF is wrong with people) left me reflecting on numerous themes posed throughout the piece and how they related to my life. Because I’m so vain. Or, that’s how art is supposed to work.

The second act of the show concluded with a whole lot of death. Some have concluded that the unhappily-ever-after ending did the show in (‘mericans, we want want our happy endings and fries, thank-you-much) but that unhappily-ever-after ending is much more realistic than when a prince saves a princess for all eternity.

Instead, other than birth and perhaps putting nourishment into our bodies and shortly thereafter removing it, death is the most real element of life. It’s our common end, no matter how we choose to live our life in whatever time we have.

Oh, when I was born,
I had tomorrows stretched before me,
But the yesterdays piled up
From that day on.

— “When I’m Gone” lyric snip, Bridges of Madison County

Tomorrows indeed seem to disappear so fast in life. And death creeps in so quickly. This isn’t just poetry, it’s reality. Somehow or other at 30 I’ve yet to attend a funeral in my life. Yet all the people I care about are getting older. Time even takes so many too young.

Today, I visited my aunt, 52, who was recently in the hospital for over a month. A vibrant woman of Spanish (Cuban?) decent, when I visited her briefly today you could see that she had lost some of the sparkle in her eyes. Who could blame her? She stopped breathing due to a surgery complication and had to be revived. It was a very scary month in the hospital, and she still have more surgical work to be done to get her back to normal. As she shared her story, I could see her reliving the moments of absolute hell. But she made it. She’s here. And I hope she lives a long, healthy life. An otherwise healthy person, she was stunned by her own fragility.

Following the brief meeting with my aunt, I went over to my grandparent’s house. Grandma was getting along fine, though each time I visit her gait becomes clearly more disturbed by age. My grandfather, on the other hand, has slipped. Grandpa is an Italian-Slovenian man who, in my youth, was filled with dynamism and the stubbornness that rages through my genetics. It’s hard for all of us to watch him fall apart. He has a form of Parkinsons that  effects his brain, so he fades in and out. He seems aware at times, then not at all at others. Often he speaks and it’s impossible to understand his slurred words. Sitting on the couch, in one of those moments where he seemed all but unconscious, he reached out and grabbed my arm, looked up at me with those sharp eyes I remember, blurting out “don’t get old,” before fading back into a daze.

It’s hard for my obese, cancer-ridden father to see his own father like that. As much as my father drives me nuts, I wouldn’t want to see him like that. But that’s what happens in life. It’s the part we don’t talk about, that we all distract ourselves from while flipping through gossip magazines and studying the architecture of Angelina Jolie’s cheekbones. Yet death, it catches the best of us in the long run.

Sans religion death becomes a harder experience to process. At least religion provides a framework for how to handle end of life. Without God telling us what to do, what do we do? What will I do when my own parent’s pass? In Judaism, there is a three-stage ritual for processing death. It begins by sitting Shiva, a seven day period of intense mourning where others come to your house and sit with you. The first thirty days following the burial there is a new period one enters called Shloshim. This basically tells you that you have 30 days to mourn the loss of this person, and then it’s time to get on with life. But it provides time to actually mourn and process, all in the context of a religious framework. The third stage, then, is Yizkor, when one attends temple to remember their loved ones every year. It’s good to know that you can close the door on mourning after 30 days, with a time annually to return to that, to never forget those who have passed, for as we age, there will be many.

It so happens tonight concluded with my parent’s attending the wake of a 25-year old who I knew as an acquaintance growing up, a kid who suffered with a spinal condition his whole life, which apparently got worse as he aged (I did not realize it was degenerative.) I opted to stay home versus attend the wake, I’ve yet to see a dead person and although I think it’s something one should do in order to grasp the magnitude of life’s end, I wasn’t ready to grasp it today.

Bridges of Madison County, at least the musical, follows up with its lyrics about the dying with yet another song about death. The song — “It All Fades Away” — focused squarely on the satisfaction that comes from taking risks, being passionate, chasing after one’s dreams, and, most importantly, loving deeply, before everything we know, poof, vanishes into the dust.

I was sliding down a mountain,
I was burning in the sun,
I was crying with amazement at the view.
I was capturing a moment,
But when all is said and done,
Well, it all fades away but you.
It all fades away, it all fades away,
It all fades but you.

“It All Fades Away,” – Bridges of Madison County

There’s a simple beauty and truth in the importance of finding the moments in our life that are meaningful, the people in our lives who we can love, and not to be afraid of that love, even if neighbors across the street may judge or others would say it isn’t right.

Without religion, it’s so important to attend shows like this, because art allows us to stop and process death and life and meaning without some mystical God’s involvement. It gives us time to pause, reflect, and appreciate the wonder that we have today, for it will be gone so fast tomorrow.

 

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