Bittersweet: Life and Loss

Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger

NEW YEARSFor the many decades now, since my childhood, there have been two underlying ideas about life that have guided me as I’ve journeyed through the years. The first is that life for all of us is at best bittersweet. This blog is about the first of these ideas and the second will be expressed in a companion piece. I attended my first funeral at the age of seven. It was for someone known as “Aunt” Amelia, who lived with my Aunt Mollie in her rooming house in upstate New York. I was too young to ever find out just what Amelia’s relationship was to the family. I remember her as a woman who spoke with a Yiddish accent and dressed like a Gypsy. She was very nice to me whenever we travelled from the City to visit Aunt Mollie, my mother’s oldest sister. The many other cousins around my age were not taken to the funeral, presumably to shield them from the knowledge of death, but my parents believed that I should be exposed to all of life. I don’t know how it is for most people, but my life has always had in it the concept of illness and death. In the Jewish tradition I was named after my Grandfather Moses. Jews tend to name their children after departed loved ones. I knew who I was named for from a very early age because it was felt to be an honor that I was the first male child named after the Patriarch of a family of nine children. If you add my mother’s family to the equation, then the fact is that I had eighteen Aunts and Uncles, with perhaps fifty first cousins. Since I am now pushing seventy years of age, you can imagine how many funerals I’ve attended in my life. Thus from my earliest memories death has played a sad role in my life from an up close and personal perspective.

The irreducible fact of the human condition is our mortality and it is a subject that weighs heavily upon us. Our psychological imperative is that we live life to its fullest, burdened with the knowledge that at some unknown point it will end. Most religious belief stems from this knowledge in order to replace fear with comfort and order. With some religions, like Christianity and Islam, the palliative to mortality is the attainment of “heaven” after we die and thus immortality. In my religion, Judaism, the promise of an afterlife is at best nuanced, or non-existent. We humans are ego driven beings and abound with hopes and plans. The knowledge that all our hopes and plans can end in an unexpected minute must be somehow mollified or pushed out of our consciousness. As we age we reach a point where we realize that we have less of a future than we have of a past. In writing this I feel a bit of queasiness in my chest, because given my age and life experiences that is certainly true for me and I’m willing to bet that the feeling is universal. The thoughts about writing this blog came to me as a kind of mini-epiphany on New Year’s Eve and while it is quite different in theme than most other things I’ve written here, I ask your forbearance as I explain my thoughts.

For New Year’s Eve my wife and I attended a party given at a good friend’s upscale community clubhouse.  Like my own, this is an “Over 55” community and the age range of the guests seemed for the most part to be in their seventies, or even older. The club was elegantly appointed and the New Year’s decorations both festive and tasteful. Since this is in Florida the dress was more or less evening party casual, with the women wearing sparkly tops over black pants, or skirts. The men wore shirts and long pants and I pulled my best shirt/pants out of the closet for the evening. There was first a “cocktail party” in the vestibule outside of the ballroom, with the doors to the ballroom opening at Nine PM.

The ballroom was well decorated, as was the stage that held the three piece band. The band members, dressed in tuxedos, were all white haired and appeared in their seventies. There was a spacious dance floor surrounded by tables of eight. The band’s opening numbers were standards like “Fly Me to the Moon” and people began dancing almost at once. At our table we were all chatting amiably, but as is my wont, I was mostly surveying the scene, taking in its entirety.

The man from the couple at my left began talking to me and he seemed quite interesting. He had been born in Holland and his parents left there as World War II began to loom. I found though that Holland was an introductory gambit since his extolling of the place soon turned to describing its legalized marijuana and contrasting it to the emergence of marijuana legalization in the State. I realized that he had spotted me as a “pothead”, as I had spotted him when I sat down. Back in the early sixties as “grass” was just beginning to become popular, those who smoked it as I did could walk into a room and “spot” the “potheads” in the room. It is a sense akin I guess to “gaydar” in the homosexual community. Now my days of marijuana use ended many years ago when I became a father. Returned after my children left the home and ended as I started dying from Congestive Heart Failure. However, there is perhaps a glint in my eye that betrays me as someone who had, or did smoke grass. His identification made me uncomfortable somewhat, because on the cusp of the long due legalization of marijuana in this country, I can no longer use it. Studies have shown that marijuana use interferes with the immuno-suppressant drugs I must take for the rest of my life. What happened next was of course the source of my discomfit as he offered to go out on the back patio and “turn me on.” I felt compelled to decline, explaining why and his interest in me became indifference quite quickly. In his mind I wasn’t as “hip” as he had first thought. I noticed though, as throughout the night he took many of the men out with him to “smoke”. That was the start of my mini epiphany.

In my hippie days, back in the 1960’s and 1970’s marijuana smoking in New York City was quite common among those my age. You could “smoke” on the street; you could “smoke” in restaurants, in movie theaters and at concerts. You could do this without fear of arrest unless you were a person of color, or too obvious in front of the police. You could go to no party that didn’t have people smoking grass and certainly an evening of friends getting together would always involve smoking grass. Here I was four decades and more than a thousand miles away seeing the remnants of my life back in those two tumultuous decades of my young manhood. This got me to thinking about the moment of time I was in at this party and the people, my contemporaries, surrounding me. When the music started to swing into harder rock music and I watched my geriatric contemporaries on the dance floor, I began to see the vestiges of their youth shining through the sagging of their faces and the aging of their bodies.

This is how life is. In my inner self I still think of myself as I did when I was a teen. I deal with the same inner conflicts I had to deal with in High School, but therapy, experience and the beginnings of wisdom allow me to cope with them more successfully, in a greater variety of ways. Our interactions with people always are quite similar to those interactions of our youth. Don’t we see that every day here on the blog? Haven’t we seen it played out in our careers and in our social lives? Finally, aren’t the political battles that make up so much of our news, mere egotistical strivings akin to the struggle for supremacy in high school and on the playing fields of our childhood?

Here’s the rub though. This lack of emotional change and this clinging to a past long gone, is greatly the result of our consciousness that we are going to one day die and all that will exist of us in this world are our memories and perhaps the retention of some of our genetic makeup. So as I participated in the New Year’s celebration and danced with the best of them, there was present the knowledge of the fragile hold on life held by all there, as we drove our demons away for another moment by lapsing into the familiar patterns we have developed over decades. I write this not as someone immune to these things, but as someone who is living through the same things all we humans live through, separated by the particular uniqueness of our own experience.

We all hopefully develop successful coping mechanisms to continue to live fully, even as we know the inevitable fate of our organism. What has worked for me in life has been the ability to recognize the reality of my environment in the “here and now”, to know when to adapt, when to change and when to move on. No matter how much we desire it we can’t cling to life, or to escape the inevitable passage out of existence. As Baba Ram Dass said “Be Here Now!” It is the best way to cope.

This brings me back to the issue of loss. My parents have been dead for more than fifty years. All my Aunts and Uncles are dead, as well as some of my first cousins. The three best male friends I’ve had in my life have all been dead for more than a decade. My beloved Father-In-Law, who was a father to me for longer than my own father was, died fourteen years ago. Some women that I was involved with before I met my wife have also died. Friends that I had during my career have died. In fact, as I have related on this blog, more than three years ago I almost died. As Jews do in the Synagogue service known as “Yiskor”, periodically we remember and cherish the memories of those we love and then we move on.

If we are lucky enough to age we must accept the inevitability of change, hence loss. As I learned in Gestalt Therapy we must try to view our environment as it is, not as we think it should be. We change, we grow and we grow infirm if things go well. I’ve almost reached the infirm part of it and yet it all still seems fresh to me because I embrace change in my life and move on with little regret and no expectation of imminent salvation from the inevitable.

Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger   

Please note that these two blogs were written as my last actions as a guest blogger on the Turley Blog and that I will not be commenting any further as well. This last piece is about my lifelong commitment to fighting for those who are being oppressed and who are being bullied. When I first began commenting here it was because I had seen Jonathan on TV and was impressed by him and his struggle for civil liberties. I supported him through the years and was honored and thrilled when he asked me and others to be a guest blogger. In all the many blogs I’ve written here Jonathan has never called me to task for their content and I appreciate that as well.

However, it has come to pass that there is a fundamental difference in approach between Jonathan and myself about certain blog rules. Those of you who are regulars will understand just what I am talking about, for those mystified by my decision they can write me after tomorrow at, which is an E mail account I’ll be setting up. I want to thank Jonathan for giving me this opportunity and I’m truly sorry it is not ending well. There is a possibility that I will set up my own blog, or perhaps I will just fade into the “obscurity” that some GB’s have threatened will be my lot if I leave. In this context perhaps my last two guest blogs will be seen as having deeper meanings and a more thorough explanation of who I am.

32 thoughts on “Bittersweet: Life and Loss”

  1. Mike

    I’ve only commented infrequently, but I have been a long time reader of the blawg and comments section. I’ve followed the guest blog project from the beginning and without doubt you and your fellow guest bloggers have only added value to Prof. T’s already unique venue.

    I’ll be contacting you via the email address with the hope of being added to some sort of mailing list that will ideally be used to announce an inspired place where your thoughtfulness and insight facilitates a further coalescing of needed-now-more-than-ever people with the willingness to admit that we face monumental issues (that tax cuts for the rich won’t solve) and can act as guides to the course that is a bettered world.

    Thank you, Mike.

  2. Hi Mike
    Interestingly, each time I have read one of your last few guest entries, I have had the thought that you should have your own blog. Even when the length of one of your contributions has discouraged me from reading it, the knowledge that I am missing out on valuable wisdom brings me back to reading it. And wisdom is to the student of knowledge what sugar water is to the humming bird.
    Though I am much, much younger than you by around 3 decades, I am similarly sensitive to the creeping of death, to the looming end, the ineluctability of it all. My grandparents used to dig up their tomb long before their death, and would visit it weekly, and made sure to familiarize their children with the idea of their sure to come demise, by having them maintain the hole, weed it, reflect on it.
    Death, to them is a companion, one not be feared or fought, but as a shadow, familiar yet strange, strangely familiar, a remembrance, a teacher. When the autumn of their lives came, they listened to the whistling chill in the breeze, the falling leaves of their contemporaries, the shriveling of their heart in the absence of the friends they knew forever, the denuding of the branches in the now empty hangouts where the old sat and chat. In autumn, the sky becomes vaster and feels heavier, though it is also higher. The earth thickens, becomes weightier, and the dust, the dust is drier yet alive, as if it has the power, the suppleness, the will to be the last blanket, one to smooth out the fleshy ripple on the soil, press it tightly into the soil.
    But, yes, they have religion. They have faith that this grave is merely a bridge, a door through which they will access the real world, where reality is true, not the crude esquisse of it we have here, that defines our mortal beings, as beautiful as it may be.
    I did not know that the after-life is not much of a presence in Judaism. And now that I know, I am not sure what it means. Does it explain the melancholy I sense in Judaism (as ethnicity/culture)? Does it explain that something that is deeper than just the absence of the divine in atheist Judaism?

    . Unlike you, I am a recent follower of this blog (1year +), and there have many regulars here whose thoughts and contribution has enlightened me in some ways, through the drawing out of something positive out of me, or the learning of which behavior to avoid, for they demean one’s humanity. You are certainly one of the 3 or 4 whose posts always leave me more cautious, more trusting, more inquiring of my own biases and with the reminder to seek fairness above all.
    I have always felt a certain commonality with you, in spite of the salient differences in ethnicity, age, religion (or not), backgrounds…I tracked it to, simply, humanism, through your tendency to link various times, topics and experiences into one narrative that highlights the common aspects of humanity, in good and in bad. As I am sometimes embattled trying to refute the various labels put wholesale on my religion, it is always a relief to see you name above a post, for I know you are about to offer some valuable perspective.
    You are a good person, Mike, and that is the value of man, to be good. And though goodness sometimes is what you do for other people, goodness is also, through proper process, to inspire others to be good. It is testimony enough of that that a bit over one year ago, I did not know you, and yet, here we are with me feeling a bit brokenhearted at the thought of no longer knowing you.
    I do hope you establish your own blog, for I look forward to reading more of your insights.

  3. Mike,
    I don’t know if you will be reading this or not, but know that you will be missed here. We must stay in contact, because we simply have too much in common to lose touch.

    Your thoughts on the guy losing interest in you struck a chord. I was reminded of Alan Watts, who was about as far removed from that kind of attitude as you can get and stay on the same planet. Alan was intense, and when he was with a person, he was truly in the “here and now” with that person as long as the conversation lasted.

    You have that quality.

  4. Mike, it has been a privilege to read your thoughtful and heartfelt pieces each week, especially on the weekends when you tended to pull out all the stops..You possess a towering strength that has not only defied the rigors of your life, but has instead integrated them into your whole being, and with love.

    If anyone has lived long and prospered, it has been you.

    All the very best to you and your family.

  5. Judge Draughn:

    Mike S’s contributions to the blog are legendary, but on the topic of his leaving, let’s just say it’s a long story. You can read Mike’s work using the search function in the upper portion of the right column and I suggest you do. Many of the guest bloggers (GBs) as well as our regular commenters have been here for many years (I’m class of 2008) and we’ve gotten to know and admire each other’s work. The topics run the gamut from the profound to the absurd and we usually have a lot of fun in the discussions though the passions run high occasionally . We truly are a unique little oasis in the debris laden blog-o-sphere. I’m sure our host will welcome you formally but as one of the oldest caretakers rambling around our now suddenly bigger salon let me welcome you aboard personally.

    ~Mark M. Esposito

  6. Joe Draughn 1, January 4, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Since I am new to this blog, I am curious as to why he is leaving it.


    Mike S said in his post, the part in bold at the end of todays post: “However, it has come to pass that there is a fundamental difference in approach between Jonathan and myself about certain blog rules.”

    And JT (Jonathan Turley) commented up-thread “… I have encouraged him to establish his own blog …”

    I really do not know the specifics, since I avoid, when possible, acrid word storms that appear here less frequently than many blogs, but do show up at times.

    You simply entered into a random event that is not generally representative of the general tenor here.

  7. ON LIFE

    Butterflies don’t think or plan
    “This is what I’ll do, this is where I’ll go”

    They can’t

    Their life and their destiny
    Rests completely upon the wind

    And yet

    The loveliest flowers feed them
    They rest in the choicest spots

    Like them

    When my ride on this blue-brown merry-go-ground
    Comes to an end

    I’ll leave

    Grateful for the gift
    Of days under the sun

  8. After reading Mike Spindell’s narrative, I couldn’t help but be reminded of how similar his inner thoughts are to mine; although mine are not as lucidly formed as his are. I have well rounded the 70 yr. life post, and like most Americans do not linger over thinking about death. One area I do work at is learning, I study new subject areas every day. I take DVD college Courses into areas i’ve never touched before. Currently, I’m delving into Meterology, just to break new ground, understand a little about weather forecasting. I am also learning a new language. I believe it was Ghandi, who said, “live each day as if it were your last, and learn as if you were going to live forever.” I am trying to do that. As a Christian, I disagree with Mike, but it is not a “fatal” disagreement (no pun intended). But I am exploring doubts each day, and I am interested in reading more of his musings. Since I am new to this blog, I am curious as to why he is leaving it. As a lawyer and former, now retired, judge, I tend to ramble on. So I’ll close by saying that I look forward to rading future comments on this blog, with keen antipation–squeezed in between learning other subjects.

  9. Eleazer Bryan:

    “Oh the emptiness !”
    Very touching words but surely you realize the wisdom in the statement that “Dying is the whole point of living.” Think of all those other poor unorganized atoms just floating in space who will know neither sorrow, joy, ecstacy or depression or even any life at all. We have a chance to do soemthing good inour living and thereby leave our mark here; we’re the lucky ones no matter how brief the existence.

  10. Mike…. As you know water finds its own level……you are an excellent human…. A living example from what I know….

  11. Mike, I have enjoyed your comments and your guest posts. As you say, change is inevitable, I wish you the best in where ever your pursuits take you.

  12. As one who spends time working with the aged I know that growing old is a difficult thing for all. The gradual decline in mind and body along with the undeniable realization of your own mortality is a humbling experience.

    As a Christian my heart aches as I read through this.

    “The knowledge that all our hopes and plans can end in an unexpected minute must be somehow mollified or pushed out of our consciousness.”

    ” we are going to one day die and all that will exist of us in this world are our memories and perhaps the retention of some of our genetic makeup.”

    “No matter how much we desire it we can’t cling to life, or to escape the inevitable passage out of existence. As Baba Ram Dass said “Be Here Now!” It is the best way to cope.”

    “no expectation of imminent salvation from the inevitable.”

    Oh the emptiness !

    As the old Jewish sage Isaiah said when quoting his own people thousands of years ago “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die !”

    Is this all there is to this life? I say no.

    “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul 50 AD

    Reach Mike Spindell—

    There is something more than empty air to be grasped.

  13. Mike – I couldn’t sleep and so chose to read. And now this,
    a small death when someone you come to know, admire, depend on goes away from a familiar place. Find a new place. Even if you blog irregularly in time and inconsistently in topic, whether for your self or some or many of us, ponder and speak out loud for our gen & those that follow. Please. — Joan

  14. Mike:

    I am glad to have the benefit of reading your postings and comments here. You are certainly an asset to this world and thank you for being a welcome part of mine.


  15. Death

    Is the last great unexplored frontier

    I can barely wait for it

    Yesterday would have been better than tomorrow

    But I have play to do

  16. It is with a particularly heavy heart that I bid farewell to our long friend Mike Spindell. Mike has been an extraordinary voice of reason and insight on this blog. He is an amazing person and I have encouraged him to establish his own blog to continue to enlighten people with his often profound and insightful observations. He has been a big reason why this blog has done so well through the years. We are all in his debt.

Comments are closed.