Thinking about time, Misao Okawa, Van Gogh, and Delmore Schwartz

This week I am taking a short detour off of the poetic superhighway, perhaps into the philosophical ‘weeds’, but nonetheless, here’s what’s on my mind today. A news story that I read earlier in the month at first amused me, then it nagged at me for so long that I returned to the article for a re-read. My take away on the re-read disturbed me.

The article that I am referring to is one of many that appeared on various internet newsfeeds, as well as in the print and broadcast news media. It announced the birthday of the world’s oldest living human, Misao Okawa of Japan. Ms. Okawa, who on March 5 of this year, celebrated her 117th birthday, made her numero uno of the supercentenarians, a supercentenarian being defined as a person older than 110 years of age.

In any case, it was a ‘feel good’ article, and Ms. Okawa, who appears to be mentally sharp, and in good physical condition for a person of her age, had quite a lot to say to interviewers. Most noteworthy of her comments was one regarding life in general.

“It seemed quite short,” said Ms. Okawa.

I was stunned. If the life of the world’s oldest human seemed, “quite short”, what hope is there for the rest of us. As a time junkie, I calculated that Ms. Okawa was 57 years of age when I was born – a lady well into middle age at that time. Now in her later years, her she was telling us that, in effect, it had all passed very quickly.

Get it done, make the list, and make sure you get as much in as you can, because you only have your ‘allotted’ years. That’s what I take away from Ms. Okawa’s interview. If you want to write, paint, improve yourself, or travel to the ends of the earth, there is no better day to put a plan in place than today. If you want to build a cabin in the Rockies, ride a horse, jump a freight train to Calgary, or rekindle a lost romance, do it now.

Some of us are allowed many years, others of us few. Yesterday, March 30th, marked the passing of one who was allotted few years. It was the birth date of Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh was allowed only 37 years on this planet before insanity drove him to kill himself in July of 1890. In his wake he left a legacy of art that will survive him by millenniums (if civilization survives that long).

So this is where I am today, midway between Van Gogh’s birthday, and the first of April. Do I have a poem in mind for this occasion…well I do, but it’s not one that I wrote. It’s one of my favorite poems, and it contains one of my favorite poetic lines:

“…time is the fire in which we burn”

This line is from a poem by Delmore Schwartz, titled “Calmly we walk through this April day”. This poem describes an April day in New York City in 1937. I hope that you enjoy it.

Oh…by the way…
Ms. Okawa was asked the secret of her longevity.
She said, “I wonder about that too.”

Mahalo
ed

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2 thoughts on “Thinking about time, Misao Okawa, Van Gogh, and Delmore Schwartz

  1. “If you want to write, paint, improve yourself…” Exactly. No better day than today. I work with a young woman who is married to a man from Jamaica. She says they want to build a home there ‘someday’ on his parent’s land. I told her, “do it now. Start it now. You have time on your side. Just start, don’t wait til you have everything in place, go for it.” Us older folk understand the urgency of taking advantage of today. (not that I always have).

  2. So true, taking advantage of today. I too have failed to take that advice, but I have learned as I grow older that there are only so many days we are allotted, so it’s important to make the most of every day (or at least I try to do that). There are a number of things that I wish that I’d done earlier in life, and not that I can’t do them now, but they might not be as meaningful now as they were then.

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