Stuart Scott’s passing caught my attention. He was a long time commentator on ESPN who died of cancer. A public figure endeared by sports fans. He was charismatic and cool and the camera loved him. I watched people pay tribute to a man who was dedicated to his career and family. I don’t doubt this but what also got my attention was the testimonial about his life especially the idea that he spent his last days “working.” He only missed days when he had his chemotherapy. One of his colleagues spoke in mythical terms how he would nod off to sleep during the commercial breaks, only to start working again once the red light came on. I think this is fine if it’s what Stuart Scott wanted, as I’m sure he did, but why the public emphasis on his work ethic? I wonder if he decided to wander in the desert for a month, or two, would it have been greeted with the same amount of awe? If he spent time in reflection, in unraveling, in not knowing, or not “doing”?
I get it. We’re workers, innovators. Our work ethic is the bedrock of our society but where has it led us? Cancer is about imbalance. Cells that have gone a-wall. Are we not fatigued? Mentally exhausted to some degree? Why does the 1st world have such high cancer rates? Why has cancer increased 257% in the US since 1970? I don’t know the answer to these questions but they should at least be asked. Even when were not engaged in our careers this is a problem. The Tibetan Buddhist Sogyal Rinpoche talks about the laziness of the west being an “active laziness”. We fill ourselves up stuff and more stuff. We get busy. Idle hands are the devils playthings and all that.
My parents seemed to have lived in a sweet spot. In the 70’s I skated places, the beach in particular, and hitchhiked home. I was given an implicit approval to wander, and wander I did. My parents were oblivious to my actions because they were living out their own lives. They were divested from my journey which was my journey. My dad didn’t feel it his obligation to come to my baseball games (Gatorade in hand at the ready) if he came it was an event. If he came we were probably in the playoffs (so he didn’t see many games). Still, I can close my eyes and visualize him strolling down the third base line, hands in his cardigan sweater. I loved seeing him, but it was fine if I didn’t. I remember him asking me after my high school graduation.
“So what are you doing in the fall?”
“I’m going to college, Dad.”
“That’s great!” he said with surprise, “I’ll help you any way I can.” Then he picked up his newspaper.
It’s worth noting that inflammation is the breeding ground for cancer, and that our sympathetic nervous systems, the adrenals that control our fight or flight instincts, contribute to our bodies’ inflammation. Our collective adrenals are shot.
It also strikes me that much of our system is fueled by two inflammatory products in the form of sugar and caffeine. Isn’t it interesting that the tea industry took off at the dawn of the English Industrial revolution? Makes sense. The liquid stimulant was needed to fuel the new economy. This is not a criticism but an observation. Fortunately problems are opportunities in disguise. For one thing, I can learn from the Jewish tradition of observing the Sabbath. More than ever I need a 24 hour period, unplugged, unworked and unproductive. I need to turn away from the economic machine, so I can as Timothy Leary said, “turn on, tune in, drop out,” at least on a weekly basis. So I can take a retreat to self (acid-free of course).
Next week I’m going to a Benedictine monastery for a few days. I set it up and I don’t know what to make of it, or what to expect. There are probably better things to do. The garage door has been broken for years and it needs to be ordered. I need to find a medicine I’ve misplace that cost $1,000. The list goes on and on, but I’m choosing instead to be silent for a while. I’m getting radical. I’m taking the road less traveled.