Too Many of Our Good Die Young
(This article was written by Billy Scheuers)
Too many of OUR good die young—a love letter for the wild, scared but caring, and exquisite lifers that have traipsed the globe.
My essay is not a didactic exercise nor a lecture on how to grieve or emotionally grasp and contend with today’s endemic psychosocial issues. I would not allow myself to read anything on grief (upon writing this piece). I don’t want to be influenced by someone else’s philosophy, experience, and “self-help” vision (aside from a few quotes pertinent by great songwriters and writers alike, in my mind).
“Live like there is no tomorrow.”
~ Joseph Campbell
If only I had, however, I could today
In a time when death generally feels and seems nearer societally and personally, especially on the tail-end of a pandemic, we haven’t experienced the likes since 1918; it has me more uneasy. Our lifespan has dipped a few percentage points for the average American in the last few years. Mass Shootings are a constant, a true tragic reality TV series on rerun that now appears absurdly reduced to an empty temporal outcry following indifference and normalcy. The opioid crisis has taken an average of 100,000 souls from us annually for nearly a decade. Mental illness is on the rise by the metrics. Regarding death and sickness: If you don’t know someone, you know someone that knows someone; the degrees of separation seem closer and more daunting than ever.
Mortality: Yes, my heart, which pumps blood through the entire body; my lungs, the vital air I get to take in, which is governed by my brain, which depends on precious oxygen that also makes up 65% of the body, to begin with—one of the many elements that we share with all living creatures, not only on earth but possibly the universe. As I write, I feel my fingers on the keyboard; I take in the body and mind working like a symphony (when rested on a good day) as a perfect machine, sometimes playing in key, tune and rhythm. Each heartbeat, breath, and recognition of the self, this instant, at this moment, is to be recognized that I’m conscious of being conscious—as I breath deep on that. I (we) are here for a short stretch in the grandness of space and time; regardless of beliefs and ideology, can we agree on the beauty and gloriousness of life?
Grief and gratitude: my mind is sometimes fragmented, but I can view this experience as if I were another person observing sorrow and sadness. The service to myself (and hopefully others) is to express such a reality, an existence at this point—the fine line of how we have free will and how and where we don’t. Debatable? I know. It’s evident and mind-blowing because there is a random nature to life that I sometimes spar and conversely spoon with, too. Death is always looming; that’s the cost of being alive, so my piece is only motivated because the retirement of life has hit close to home in the last several years, personally. Grief and loss are currently wallpapering my existence. I’m anguished, bemused, and grateful to have been shaped by the collage of persons in life and their now-deceased faces, held in picture and memory. Those contiguous recollections appear before me like an old film projector with a controller, for my mind places visons on most objects before me. It’s on and working too well; it feels broken, too.
“And they say that there is a heaven for those who wait – some say it’s better, but I say it ain’t – I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints – Only the good die young.”
~ Billy Joel
Concerning Addiction, Ego, and Death: Being a recovering person from addiction and (long ago) swallowed in an unidentified and undeveloped state of ego that warped my sense of life to beget a false identity for the better part of my existence. I’ve encountered wannabe saints, martyrs, and beautiful sinners, the flawed high-character victims of self-punishment, denial, and empty and unwarranted arrogance. Many of whom I refer to as the casualties of the war inside. For them, “it’s better to burn out than to fade away” – Neil Young said it best. I’m not inclined or opined to state or paint people that way; one of America’s great lyricist quotes eerily rings genuine, tragic, and accurate in their mysterious path. I was of that ilk; where pain begets pleasure, pleasure begets pain; I’m the child (metaphorically) of the pleasure-pain marriage. A kid with no way out, nowhere to go, you have no power, no choice inside a body that doesn’t value, know or love itself—brains like a fulcrum that points towards only an insatiable desire for suffering and pleasure to annihilate thee. I grieve and empathize with those seduced by a brain disease that has people unconsciously protecting themselves in the most perverse and primitive way; paradoxically, they are hunters and prey.
For the “cool” person in (us) and those people among us: The ego, like sunglasses, obscures the light and our vision of ourselves, others, and reality. I must be mindful of taking them off daily, for I do not see humanely, with openness, depth and truth. The ego serves the purpose of obscuring, covering, pretending, reacting, projecting, and protecting self-interest—a necessary tool for survival today but not for the love of humankind.
There is so much subject matter that a short essay seems trite. Having stated such personal feelings, here are the seven “objective” stages of grief as “they” say:
- Shock and denial (the state of disbelief and numbness)
- Pain and guilt
- Anger and bargaining
- The upward turn
- Reconstruction and working through
- Acceptance and hope
One can only be so fortunate to grieve methodically and in that order; in my lived experience and observation, grief is a hodgepodge, a topsy-turvy process. A poor example: “Time heals all wounds;” whoever first said that or those who continue to utter such a lazy adage are mistaken. Like its own entity, in its unbridled and unformulaic essence, grief is unique to any or all people, as is time relationally, and just like the individual who experiences life. I suggest being cognizant of grief in all its necessary and natural processes. Time allows for grieving and recovering with healing consciousness in mind. Do not deny grief or call it something it’s not or undermine it; turn a blind eye or avoid it. It will find you, own you when you “think” you are “over” it and or “cool” with it. How about this one: “I’m okay now.” Allowing oneself to grieve, be in pain, and own their sadness is what mitigates and quells suffering. Dive into the anatomy of your emotions, or the sea of emotions will rise like an enduring tide and drown you when you least expect it.
A goodbye: To Gary Fisher, PsyD. As I write, Gary is in hospice, dying from Cancer. To my knowledge, I won’t have the chance to hear his voice or seek his counsel ever again. Seeing the discerning look on his face and his ability to suss out my crap, pull it out, and present it to me raw, though painful, and what was hurtful at the time was a clear view into my psyche, the little boy that kept me unconsciously wounded. I would often cry in his office, Gary with his legs crossed, right hand on his chin, a stoic but kind expression that was intimidating only because of his uncanny ability to read me. “Scary Gary” was the moniker you’d hear in our field. The truth: Gary wasn’t scary; what he could recognize in me was what I was afraid of; the truth is scary and painful; Gary just was able to identify and share with me. I remember Gary asking me a simple but perplexing question: “Billy, do you know who you are?”
I went to see Gary as a patient in 2004. I was in a precarious place in my recovery. I intended to deal with the pain of being in a dysfunctional relationship at the time. I received so much more; I got a rude awakening that resulted in an emotional and spiritual awakening. Gary had a piercing insight, divine wisdom, an articulate heart, a radar for histrionics, and pretense the likes I’ve never encountered; and Namely: Gary saw for me; he saved me from me. I firmly believe I would not be here today without his expertise and genius EQ. I want to thank you. Dr. Gary Fisher. May the Force Be With You Always!
I’ll leave you with a Mantra: Create as many beautiful memories with those you love; that’s all we really have that is of virtue and value to leave someone.