I've been doing kind of a lousy thing lately, in order to cut an extra five minutes out of my commute. I recently discovered that I can get to a transit stop both closer to my apartment and closer to work by cutting through the ground floor of a hospital. I found out that this shortcut existed when my usual transit stop was out of service and I got off the train at a different point. Anyway, it's not as if I'm breaking any rules, really. There are several cafes, a gift shop, even a bank machine that I pass, along with dozens of visitors and patients, as I walk a straight line from one major entrance to another. I'm not conspicuous, dressed somewhat sharply in my work clothes (dress pants and a button-down shirt, typically, though now that it's summer, I'll occasionally slip on a cotton sundress), and no one has ever stopped me, or realized that I have no business being where I am. I don't break my stride in my journey, and avoid eye contact with everyone. This measure is so I don't get called out for being there, but also so I don't have to really take in the environment around me.
Get ready for a controversial, edgy statement that no one has ever made before: I hate hospitals. For all the sanitized, officious, teddy-bears-on-nursing-scrubs of it all, hospitals are the domain of the sick, the injured, and the dying. I see wizened, phlegmatic men and women clustered on the benches by the entrance, clutching an IV pole in one hand and smoking with the other, and for their sakes, I hope these are the most satisfying smoke breaks of their lives. I hope they're are as enjoyable as a cigarette with a strong morning coffee on a balcony after a night of lovemaking. I hope they taste like the first smoke after the third drink, when you think, "To hell with it, I'm young." I can't condemn these people. If anyone's earned the right to enjoy a cigarette, it's those people who are literally giving their lives for the privilege. They're far gone, now. Let them light up. I see slouchy, downcast young people with broken bones. They seem slowed down not just by their injury, but also by the realization that they aren't invincible. I see the bald-headed six-year-old clutching the hand of his father and I just can't.
You can't tell me there's a natural order to things when kids can get cancer and die, you know? Or when forty-year-olds get ALS and lose their ability to move, speak, and function. I know it's morbid to be preoccupied by death, especially as I sit a comfortable distance away from it, having lost only grandparents and a few acquaintances. But I can't help thinking that healthy bodies are really a limited time offer, and if I don't take advantage of all my moving parts now, I might never get the chance again.
Dream: Make the best of my body while I still have it.
Goal: Achievable. It's not vanity, but a sad realization, when I say that I'm in top physical condition right this moment. I don't mean I'm physically fit, far from it, just that this is the best it's going to get for me, personally. Things can only go downhill from here. I mean, maybe I'll drop ten pounds of fat and gain ten pounds of muscle by the time I'm forty, but by then I might need reading glasses, or a root canal, or that Touch of Grey distinguished man hair dye that you comb into your pubes. The point is, I'm old enough that everything is in working order, but not old enough for anything to be worse today than it was yesterday. I really should do something about this.
Plan: Do all the things a healthy 30 year old can and should do in perfect health, like:
Exercise. I guess I swim a few times a week and walk everywhere, but so do seniors. I should push myself. I should run marathons and climb mountains and uproot trees! I don't do that now in favour of laziness, but I guarantee I'm not going to be sitting in some wheelchair one day thinking to myself, "Boy, am I glad I stayed in and watched all those episodes of Chopped."
Pick up kids. When I was little, I remember getting out of my parents' car, seeing my grandparents standing in front of their house, and running full speed up the walkway and leaping into their arms. Every single time! Of course, as I got older, I became too heavy, sure, but my grandparents also became too old to lift a running child. Now all I want to do is lift a kid. Nothing is cuter than a squealing, squirmy little gaffer that I lift into my arms effortlessly. I just need to meet more people with more kids so I can get some more hugs.
Dance. I'm not a good dancer, but why should that keep me from dancin'? The other night, the Doc and I passed a club on the way home from dinner with friends. "That looks fun," he said, and I agreed. "Maybe for my 33rd birthday, we can go there." I said, "Your 33rd birthday?! We won't be celebrating that for... oh, wait." Because his next birthday is 33 in a little over a month. I can't believe we're both as old as we are. And anyway, why wait for a birthday to walk into a dance club? We should have gone right then, our bellies full of food, and danced and drank the night away because we can!
Emote. I don't think I laugh or cry nearly enough. This is not so much to do with physical health, but with general disposition. I'm not an especially emotional person, but if I keep experiencing things with the cynical veneer to which I am accustomed, how will I handle the real joys and sorrows I'm sure to experience in my adult life? If something amazing happens and I can only make a joke about it, was it really amazing, or am I just short-changing my own life?
I seem to meet nurses all the time, I'm not sure why, and every time I meet one, I ask them what it's like to be around sick people all day. It seems they are divided into two camps. One wants to be healthy, live life to the fullest, as I have described. But it seems another impulse is to be really reckless, have the extra piece of cake, drive a little faster, throw caution to the wind, because it's all such a crapshoot anyway. At a party I attended recently, a woman who was a nurse told me she spent one wintry day in the ER helping treat a man who was out for a walk when a car started to skid on the ice, hit a stop sign, the stop sign fell and hit the man, who ended up in hospital and eventually died. "He didn't do anything wrong, the driver of the car didn't do anything wrong, there's no one to blame here, but boom. Dead." How can you put a reason to something so unreasonable? Why not have the extra piece of cake?
I hope, at least, that I am grateful. That I can separate myself from my concerns, grievances, and narcissism long enough to see that I'm incredibly lucky to live the way that I live and have all that I have. I can't worry about what's up ahead because then I won't appreciate what I have right here right now. All the same, I think I should stop sneaking through the hospital, because no shortcut is worth this kind of angst. I shouldn't be in such a hurry to get anywhere.