50 Palos – Pau Donés

A childhood friend of mine died at the end of May. His name was Paul and we grew up in the same neighborhood playing ice hockey together. He stayed in Rhode Island and became a History teacher at our high-school. He left behind a wife of 25 years and two sons. He was 52. This is from his obituary:

 Paul’s motto was to have a healthy mind and a healthy body.  He was a health enthusiast who had a lifelong commitment to healthy living and fitness. It was a shock to his family when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer last August.  He had no symptoms and had just completed the Newport 10 Miler road race a few weeks earlier.  He handled his diagnosis of this rare cancer privately with honor, grace, and bravery and never once asked, “Why me?”.  He continued to teach and coach and live his life to the fullest knowing his time on this earth was limited.  He lived and died by his rules and leaves a legacy behind.  Paul was a man who was a true role model: kind, generous, compassionate, empathetic, honest, and caring.  He had a strong work ethic which was seen in all aspects of his life as a father, teacher, and coach. 
           He was a true gentleman who looked at everything from the other person’s perspective and was always respectful and positive.  He always had a warm “Hello” for all those he came across and always made sure to remember everyone's name.  He truly believed that our words and our actions matter and we should always remember the power they have.  He was a man of character who mentored his sons, students, and student-athletes to always try to be the best human they could be.  Paul was a loving husband, father, uncle, and friend who will be greatly missed. His death is not only a loss to those who loved him, but it is also a loss to the Cranston community and all of the future students and athletes who will now miss his guidance, support, and positive influence. 

This sad story reminded me of another sad story I read a few months ago. The story of Pau Donés, lead singer and songwriter of Jarabe de Palo, who died of colon cancer in June of 2020. He was 53. 

He was diagnosed with cancer at 50 and wrote this memoir. It is a story full of every emotion, and I read it in three days, inspired by his positive and creative spirit. There are 50 chapters, each with a different theme that he discusses using stories from his life and his thoughts on what they all mean and how those moments, thoughts and memories influenced his music. I had always liked his music, but now, his songs have  a new and deeper meaning. He continued making music until the very end. The book was published along with an album with new versions of 50 Jarabe de Palo songs that, in his words, "nos hemos dedicado a destrozar nuestras propias canciones para luego recnstruirlas aprovechando los miles de pedacitos que quedaran en el suelo." The book is full of his song lyrics and some ideas as to what inspired them. Here are four of his songs, but they're all great. His book is great, too. A spiritual journey that I enjoyed, bittersweetly, very very much.
I am 52.  I have had my mid-life crisis, and now find myself on the downward slope towards the end of my life. My father is now in an assisted living facility. Aunts and uncles on both sides of my family seem to be passing away every other month.  Longfellow famously wrote that "   "A boy's will is the wind's will,  And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." But thoughts of old age, failing health, broken homes and what and where and who I'm going to be for the rest of my short time here have been not only long, long, but unfathomably deep, deep thoughts recently.

My mid-life crisis began four years ago, and I've aged ten years since then. Physically, mentally, professionally, family, friendships, interests, philosophically and spiritually....it seems like a different life. At 48, I felt ten years younger. Now I feel ten years older. But, like I said, it seems that the crisis is finished with me. Doesn't even glance my way, anymore. I'm accepting my old, dying self. I've even developed a decent smoking habit and high-blood pressure. My Dad, who is 73, informed me that all the men on his side of the family have died before 73, so he feels lucky for making it this far. Then he paused and said, "You've still got 20 years, right? Make the most of it! (laughs)" Right. I'm not dead, yet. But thanks Dad. Thanks Paul and Pau. As I get over the top of this roller coaster crisis, and start the quick decent down the other side, as addictive, gloomy and creepy as ever, I appreciate your stoic advice, which seems to be:  Accept it.

From the last page of 50 Palos:
Tengo un montón de arrugas por reír,
unas cuantas promesas que cumplir, voy a cumplir,
cientos de vidas pasadas, no sé cuántas por vivir,
pocos buenos amigos y alguno que perdí.
36 grados y medio debajo de la piel,
muchas puertas por abrir, muchas otras que cerré.
Un cajón lleno de cartas de amor sin remitente,
tantas como canciones un día te regalé.

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