Commentary: Making room for the big questions

Commentary: Maintaining my health in an age of COVID

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles.

In Part One of my series describing methods I’m employing to stay healthy in the age of COVID-19, I shared my reasons for why I decided to quit using Facebook and Twitter. It’s been nearly two months, and not only do I not regret my decision, I wish I’d punted those toxic social media platforms into the churning abyss a long time ago.

So, now that I’ve been living my life without social media, I’m all better, right? There was nothing more to do but soak in the stress-free abundant joy of living life like it was 1999, right?

Not quite. There was — and is — much more to be done.

Living healthy is hard during any time period of human history, and now in 2020 — the year I knew for certain back when I was 13 (1983), would feature jetpacks, flying cars, robot maids, and life-spans approaching 200 years — because of humanity’s overwhelming collective fear of death, we are all at the mercy of a virus.

I don’t mean to suggest that I’m above you all, fearless and bold. I’m just as fearful as everyone else. Despite the fact that life, as described by author Neil Gaiman, “is a disease, sexually transmitted, and invariably fatal” I too don’t want to admit that death is inevitable.

In fact, when I turned 48 in 2018, I decided that I did not want to enter my 50s the way I was going: overweight, depressed, and alcoholic. So, I quit drinking, and just this past June, I celebrated my 50th birthday having lost 60 pounds. I can fit into the same “high-water” Wranglers I wore my senior year of high school! I’m skinny again, and it feels great.

But being healthy isn’t simply a matter of giving stuff up that’s bad for you. On some level, the stuff that was bad for me was doing something for me. Alcohol helped me cope with the challenging aspects of life’s tiresome routines. Social media gave me an outlet for my anger and annoyance at people who voiced different opinions from me. Put the two together and you get many a morning waking up foggy-headed wondering: “Did I actually post that to my Facebook page last night? Yes, yes I did.”

Unfortunately, there are only so many things we get to blame on the president. Facebooking while drinking isn’t one of them.

Since the lockdown in March, I’ve had a lot more downtime than I’ve ever had since becoming an adult (debatable if “becoming an adult” ever officially happened, I know, but bear with me).

In the beginning, my wife Andria and I did what most everyone else was doing. We Netflixed and chilled. When that got tedious, we broke out Andria’s complete Harry Potter DVD collection and eight days later after Voldemort vaporized into ashes, we watched Bilbo, Gandalf, and their dwarven friends journey to the lair of Smaug.

Three days after that it was time for “The Lord of the Rings”.

The Star Wars franchise was next on the docket, but by then, we noticed something bubbling to the surface of our respective psyches. It was akin to the feeling I got as a kid when I faked being sick so I could stay home and watch TV all day. A feeling of emptiness welled up inside us both, a shameful feeling that we were wasting our time.

Andy Dufresne (Dufrain) said in the Shawshank Redemption, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really: Get busy living or get busy dying.”

In committing so much time to watching our favorite movies we were transporting ourselves to what we subconsciously felt was a more innocent period when we had watched those movies for the first time. In doing so, we were honoring the past, but eventually, we were mostly just avoiding the present.

Andy Dufresne was in prison when he made his comment to his best friend Red. In some ways, the lockdown provided all of us with an inkling of what being in prison is like. The one word most people wouldn’t use for such a circumstance was the one that Dufresne, and eventually, Andria and I, completely embraced: Opportunity.

If Andy had never gone to Shawshank, it’s more than likely that he would never have experienced freedom in all it’s marvelous, full-bodied dimensions, sharing it with the best friend he never would have made, had he not gone to prison.

Once it was obvious that we were in it for the long haul and the virus, nor our fear of death, was going to go away anytime soon, Andria and I decided that we would take this opportunity to figure out some really important stuff.

The questions we only asked ourselves in times of loneliness, alienation and despair, emerged, full-fledged, demanding answers. Instead of vegging out in front of the widescreen TV for the latest Netlix/Hulu/HBO/Amazon series, Andria and I moved our widescreen TV out of the way entirely. The questions are big, and they need room to spread out in order for us to more adequately address them.

What is the meaning of life?

What is the nature of consciousness?

How do I live and what do I bring forth into the world?

These were questions I used to ask as a Philosophy minor at SUNY Fredonia so many moons and so many strands of brown healthy hair ago. I’m 50 now and Andria is at the age that is none of your business so you probably shouldn’t ask.

The point being, what else do we have to lose in inviting these questions into our living rooms? Have you seen the news lately? You’re not going to get any answers from MSNBC, FOX, CNN et al, I can guarantee you that.

Only we can answer those questions.

I might not be a philosopher, but I’ve been spending a lot of time lately pondering the meaning of life. What I’ve learned so far: The answers are not about what we believe or what we are told to believe.

The answers can be found in what we do. Philosophy, like religion, is more than an academic exercise.

It’s a practice. Lots and lots of practice.

In my next columns, I will be sharing practice routines Andria and I have found advantageous to our overall health in the hopes that you may glean some use from them as well.

In the meantime, let’s get busy living.

Damian Sebouhian, a former OBSERVER staff writer, is a Dunkirk resident.


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