I have been a cyclist, runner, boxer and saunterer all my life. I have done Yoga and Tai-chi since I was a teenager. I quit smoking 35 years ago. So I thought I was immune to circulation ailments. I believed that. I firmly believed that. But it was not true. Recent emergency open heart surgery proved me dead wrong.
I started physical exercise as a boy of six when I aped my father doing his daily physical ritual called Swedish Gymnastics, a series of about 47 positions that involve over 800 movements that supposedly stimulate muscle tone, circulation and mental balance. My father and his brothers were athletes and swimmers. My uncle Reyes was the first swimming coach at Duquesne University. My grandfather’s brother Bartholomew was a skater and cyclist who had a gym at home, early in the 1900s. I guess movement and exercise runs in the family.
I did not realize that at conception I had been issued a death certificate. I was not told the date when the certificate would mature. So I lived, like everybody else, in a fool’s paradise, postponing everything and believing that my time-credit would never end. Oh, yes, yonder in the future loomed the reality of the certificate, but as we must be optimistic and carefree now, I thought the show would never end, with its ups and downs… There is always time, we’ll do it tomorrow, next week, or next year…
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And then one day, a few months ago, I started feeling a bit tired. I began using elevators instead of walking up a few flights of stairs. People started walking faster than me and I noticed that I ended up panting when I exerted myself. I realized that the city where I live is very hilly. Yet I made an effort to be my old self and refused to take heed of the warnings. “I am getting older, I guess,” I would say to myself. “I cannot expect to be as fit as when I was fifty.”
For some years I had felt, at odd times, a strange feeling in my left arm, like a pain, but it would go away. “A muscle cramp,” I would say to myself and leave it at that.
A month and a half ago I was sitting watching TV on a Sunday afternoon when the pain in my left arm, the pressure in my chest, told me to pick up sticks and get moving. I walked into the Health Center and in less than five minutes I had more than ten people, doctors and nurses, hovering around me. An ambulance took me to the nearest hospital. I made it under the wire. Four days later I was operated on my clogged arteries. Four bypasses, no less, were implanted in my heart.
This tale may sound familiar because it happens often, to many people. People who, like me, think they are in control of things and disdain randomness and fate. I am a lucky one: I was reprieved right under the wire, before my certificate matured. It was, and still is, an ordeal. But the game is worth the candle because this new lease on life affords a perspective, a viewpoint that was not there before. Eternity is lurking right around the corner, ready to pounce on us. So memento mori and let us keep our powder dry.
We should all be more aware of our fate on a daily basis. Deep down, we all know how our personal drama –or comedy, musical, thriller, take your pick– is going to end. We watch how others lose the battle at different ages… But alas, we are only witnesses, eyewitnesses to the demise of family, neighbors, acquaintances, whose time has come. It seems as if that did not have anything to do with us. Others appear to suffer the slings and arrows of Fate, of Nature, but somehow we turn a deaf ear and believe ourselves immune. But we are not.
The laws of Nature apply to everyone.