So Late So Soon

Donald Shephard

The phrase “So late, so soon” is a verisimilitude, that is, it has the appearance of truth. Like all such statements, we should examine it closely to verify it before we accept it as gospel. We all see the world through a different prism based on our heritage, our experiences and our personal foibles, whims and eccentricities, that is to say our own perspective.

One of the reasons to suspect “So late, so soon”, is the effect of perspective on our personal prism over time. When I was in Japan, I visited the Imperial gardens in Kyoto. The architect of the pavilion there had arranged the shoji screens along the veranda from the emperor’s suite in such a way that each succeeding screen was slightly smaller that the previous one. The result, if you looked from the emperor’s end of the veranda, was one of enhanced perspective. It looked as though the building was much longer that it was in reality. Of course, the opposite is true, if you looked up towards the emperor’s suite from the smallest room of the least important person on the veranda.

So it is with time. If we look forward our vision is foreshortened. We can see very little. We are as mystified as someone driving along at night in our coastal fog. On the other hand, if we look back, we see the immediate past fairly clearly, but still through our own individually skewed prism. We see the past with a precision that is inversely proportional to its distance in time.

I must admit to sometimes thinking my sixty-three years have past by too quickly. Perhaps I did not carpe diem enough. But those are the thoughts of a pessimist and I am at least a pragmatist if not a complete optimist, after all life has been very good to me. Oh sure, there was a rocky start and a fairly depressing teen age, followed by an unhappy marriage but since I married Colleen, and especially since our boys left home, life has been very good. My own prism may have a slightly rosy tinge to it. The many people who are older than I am also seem to be generally upbeat.

Another reason I believe “So late, so soon”, is misleading is the mellowing that comes to many of us in our maturity. We no longer feel indestructible as we did in our youth. We have faced our own mortality and realized that we are not going to live forever. Furthermore, the limited time we do have is diminishing rapidly. When I turned fifty, some rather unpleasant things happened to my wife and I. I had four years of pain, dropped to 173 pounds before a misdiagnosis was corrected, my gall bladder removed, and I could, and unfortunately did, eat anything and everything again. Colleen had a brainstem tumor that required 16 hours of surgery followed by a setback, further surgery, six weeks in UCSF Medical Center, and a year of convalescence with constant vertigo and nausea. Shortly after that, I was laid off from my job in Stanislaus County. We were able to cope with these troubles because we had been in similar, if not quite so drastic, situations before. We actually enjoyed the fifteen months I was on the unemployment rolls. We became very close. By the time middle age arrives, it is most likely that you can refer to previous experiences and make some good judgments about present predicaments. You become aware that you can cope with whatever comes down the pike. It is a realization that breeds confidence. It is the reason that fifty year-olds are more secure and mellow than teens and twenty-something people.

That is not to say that all adults are wise. Many of us, particularly those of the American Right, believe that our own particular prism is spotless and looks directly, clearly and transparently on the god-given truth. Looking as I do through the only really clear prism in the whole world, I believe these people to be seriously delusional.

So I reject “So late, so soon” and replace it with “Carpe diem,” and the knowledge that life is good even if I have not always been so. I do not regret the passage of time. I do not fear death, as it will come in its own sweet time. It is a most natural part of life. It is useless to look back in anger or grief. It is better to look forward and say, “Bring it on!”

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