One of the truisms of life is this. That which is alive will die.  It happens to be true of every living thing we see or have ever come in contact with. Cats, dogs, birds, deer, crocodiles, cockroaches, flies, trees, grass, flowering plants, and the myriad varieties of bacteria. All will eventually die. Each and every one of us included. It was the American author William Saroyan who famously said, Everybody has to die, but I always believed an exception would be made in my case. Five days later, he was dead.

Last weekend, I had a heart attack. The Cliff Note version is that I woke up at 2:00 a.m., felt pressure on my chest, shooting pain down both arms, and was profusely sweating. After getting to the hospital, I was stabilized. Then, came the necessary medical procedures: catheterization, stent inserted in the arteries feeding the heart to open the blockage, and being given more drugs than a crack dealer slings in a thriving inner city market.

I will give myself a little credit. Not once in this entire process, even when I thought I was breathing my last, did I ever invoke a deity (Abrahamic or otherwise) pathetically intoning “why me?” Nor, did I offer up incantations or supplications to an invisible and non-existent being in a wretched effort to somehow save me or spare me. I did, however, offer profuse thanks. The thanks were expressed to the doctors, nurses, cardiac therapists, and other medical professionals who all worked as a team to save my life. I’m able to write this not because of soothsayers, witchdoctors, shamans, or archbishops who use their secret knowledge of the arcana to commune with the invisible. But, because of caring humans whom, through scientific study, have honed those scientific skills to a fine art.

Now, if you want to have an “in your face” reminder of you own mortality, try lying on an operating table, fully conscious, while looking at a video screen in real time of your heart beating as you watch wires go through your coronary arteries. I don’t necessarily recommend this. But, it is an eye opener.

All of this, needless to say, had me contemplating my own mortality. The answer to the “why me” question is a no-brainer. The answer stares back at me from a mirror. I am a mortal being who, in over six decades on this planet, wore my body down like a race car constantly running in the red rpm range through years of tobacco use, alcohol consumption, questionable diet, and a high stress job.

The more important question is this. Was and is my existence worth it? A question each of us, if we are being honest with ourselves, would like to have answered before we cash it in. And, many of us answer it ourselves by reminding ourselves of all the good things we have done. True enough. But we also tend to conveniently forget those times when we were selfish, assholes, and hurt others around us; myself included. Those who deny that part of themselves either 1) never got out of their parents’ basement, or 2) are selectively editing their autobiography. The latter like writing your own eulogy.

For many of us, that answer won’t come in our lifetime. My children once asked me what a successful life is. Time to remind myself of the answer I gave them. Success is not measured by the accumulation of wealth, fame, or notoriety. It is when, after you’ve changed your career to that of a root inspector, or your ashes are spread over someplace you will never again be able to consciously enjoy, someone can walk by and state or think this. "You know, the world was actually a better place because he/she was in it." If I’m lucky, someone may say that someday.

Because of the advances of scientific knowledge, and the application of those principles through technology, I hope to be around long enough to see the leaves change color in the autumn, spring flowers opening, the late summer harvest of fruits and vegetables, and laughing and joking with my friends, for many years to come. If I am that lucky, it will be in no small part due to the accumulation of scientific knowledge, advanced generation by generation, and actively opposed and fought against by every religion ever invented.

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Comment by Andrew Bradford Hoke on August 9, 2014 at 9:04am

I trust that you are recovering well, or are completely recovered.

Good for you that you never asked God for help or asked people to pray for you. I think that means you kept your wits and your will. I hope I'm as strong when I (inevitably) face death.

I think one feature of a life well lived is a clear conscience, but that's just my opinion.

Comment by Pat on May 29, 2014 at 8:05pm

Thanks for asking Daniel. Doing well, and out walking around a lot. Have a doctor's appointment tomorrow, and should be OK. At least, I'm optimistic, which is half the battle.

Comment by Pat on May 26, 2014 at 11:24am

Ted, your're 100% correct in that the memories we leave are the sole property of those doing the remembering. Mindy, the memories you have of your grandmother are similar to those I have of my father. When he died, the only reason I went to the funeral was so as not to  be reviled by the rest of my family. The preferable alternative was to stay home and wash my socks.

And, I thought about both when I wrote this. Which is why I said, "If I'm lucky...."

Comment by Ted Foureagles on May 25, 2014 at 8:10pm


My father was not a warm & fuzzy sort of person, but he meant the world to me.  We were Ted and Little Ted.  People used terms like "spitting image" and "chip off of the old block", and it made me proud.  My little brother had a very different experience.  He was 16 when Dad suddenly died, and said that it was the greatest relief he'd ever known.  He saw Dad & me as practically opposites, which still surprises me.  Even the memories that we leave are the sole property of those doing the remembering.


Comment by Ted Foureagles on May 25, 2014 at 1:44pm

Thanks for the moving story Pat, and here's hoping that you'll recover and stay healthy for a long time.  The male portion of my hillbilly gene puddle has heart valves about as reliable as those in an old flathead Ford.  Dad checked out with his second heart attack the day before his 60th birthday (which plays hell with my insurance assessments), and Dear Li'l Brother had all 4 heart valves replaced with plastic (clicks a little if you listen closely) when he was 35.  I was diagnosed with the same problem 30 years ago, and had a minor heart attack a few weeks after my 40th birthday (symptoms exactly as you describe).

Since I had no insurance and my wife was a nurse, we treated it at home and I somehow survived.  But I was flat on my back for a few months, lost my job and my wife when she got tired of being poor, and thus also my apartment.  Four and a half months after the heart attack I walked slowly away with an 80 lb. backpack containing all that I owned and headed toward the only place that I knew sustained me, the crest of the Rocky Mountains.

I had walked the Continental Divide before, but this time what had taken a couple of weeks took a few months.  It was as if I was an ailing old Jeep (with leaky valves) that had to shift down into compound low to continue on.  But I did walk down the spine on Colorado and then hitchhike here to South Carolina.

I'm surprised to wake up each morning, and somewhat ambivalent about it.  I generally like living, but feel that I've done about enough of it, or at least my fair share.  My life has been long-ish and rather hilarious, and I enjoy sitting back in my dotage and telling stories (real or not) about it.

I'd rather not leave so much as a grease spot when I'm gone.  If I have the chance I'll wipe the hard drive on this computer at first serious sign of chest pain.  Those who know me know that my preferred disposition of my body would be as food for local bears and bugs, but that's not legal here.  If some feel a need to foist some religious ritual over my death, it's no skin off my butt.  Well it may be, but I won't be there to care.

Wouldn't it be something if life after death were a real thing and we could wander around for a while as ghosts in the lives of those who knew us?  I often think of Dad, who died over 1/3 century ago.  But it's not as if he were some mystical presence that animates a cloud.  It's just a memory, and that's all we can leave, other than food for bears or bugs.


Comment by kathy: ky on May 25, 2014 at 12:34pm
As for religious preference the admitting clerk, at the local hospital, told me she would be praying for me during my stay. I told her no thanks. I'm an atheist.
When the standard survey call came to my home a week later, I complained about the offer of prayers. Maybe these little things will help atheists, and other non believers, visible in this ocean of religious nonsense that is the usa.
Comment by Joan Denoo on May 25, 2014 at 11:36am

Pat, wonderful news that at least one admittance clerk acknowledged your atheism. We do need people to talk to during times of uncertainty but having someone who believes in superhuman powers is not comforting in such occasions. The efforts to get non-theistic support will improve health delivery. Luckily, I had an atheist therapist at Cancer Care Northwest and she helped immensely. My family, friends, and all my medical support team know that I am an atheist and some of them are too.  

Comment by Loren Miller on May 25, 2014 at 9:35am

Pat, your anecdote about the two nurses and especially the second one in St. Louis is as hopeful a sign that people are getting the message about atheism and atheists as I've heard in a long time.  I'm sure that was at least a nice morale boost for you!

Comment by Idaho Spud on May 25, 2014 at 8:29am

Pat, what a great lady that smiled and said we will make sure no clergy come around to bother you.  A woman like that would definitely get my profuse thanks!

Comment by Randall Smith on May 25, 2014 at 7:37am

A couple of things (or more): First and foremost, I'm glad you're still alive! I enjoy the depth, often with wit, of your blogs and group comments. Your having a heart attack came as a surprise to me, and, obviously, to you, too!  When I was in the hospital for colon cancer surgery 10 years ago, I, too informed the nurses, "No clergy". Whew. 

It was soon thereafter that I wrote my autobiography. Facing death does make one reflect. I liked your take on all that. I want to be remembered long after I'm gone--wartless, of course!     One more thing. I'm wondering if bacteria actually die. Don't they undergo fission and keep on living?  



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