Life and Death

Earlier this month I wrote:

Humans – that is, the “being” part of the human – may arise out of the individual patterning of his or her biology and neurology. The “being’s” task is to remain aloft above the sum of his or her own parts, and not, through physical or neurological dysfunction or deficit sink back in to the morass of autonomic functioning unaware of anything beyond the instant.

I think that our lives – that is, whether we have life or are dead – don’t have much to do with our health.  They’re related but separate categories, if categories is the word I want.  People in terrible health seem to linger for months and, short of euthanasia or suicide, it doesn’t seem to matter much how how they feel about it.

For two weeks I’ve been thinking about human mortality and how to write about it.  My wife’s grandfather is in hospital and for several weeks has been expected to live no more than a few more days.  His brother died a few months ago, picking tomatoes.  My wife’s mother has spent almost every night in his hospital room with him because she does not want him to die alone.  Certainly he will never return to the home where he and his now three or so years deceased wife have lived since the 1940s.  For the first time this year as we drove by the old white farmhouse we didn’t honk the horn in greeting because there was no one in residence to hear it.

Old-White-Farmhouse

The man who married my late maternal grandmother in 1973 (I think it was that year), now 96, has seemed to be growing weaker over the past several months to a year.  About four, five weeks ago now, he fell for the second time, and because he was living independently and apparently lost consciousness, lay there for several hours until he was able to muster the strength to get to the telephone and call somebody, probably my mother, to help him.  Not long after that he agreed to daily help at home, and shortly after that determined it was time to hang up his car-keys.  Within a week or so afterward, he made some alteration to his medical regime without medical advice that seems to have altered his consciousness to such a degree he cannot remain at home at all.  Little likelihood remains that he will ever return to the home he built all those years ago for my grandmother.

A few days ago a man of my acquaintance died.  When we last spoke, he talked about how he wanted to reconnect with his son who’d been living homeless in a southwestern state suffering from pancreatitis attributable to chronic, long-term alcohol abuse.  He himself suffered from emphysema, but thought he had two or three years left to live.  A former high wage earner, this man had been reduced to a meager and fixed income.  He continued to find meaning in writing, recording, and performing music.  He said his father used to tell him, “You’ll never amount to anything.” 

After our parents die, the only people who have any idea who we are on the basis of who we were are our siblings, if we have any.  My son has no siblings, and as I think about my elders as they make their way through their final days, I think of my little boy as he wades into the first of his.  By the time my wife and I turn our toes skyward I hope our son will be happily established raising a family of his own.  Possibly these dolorous preoccupations are entirely my own and occur to no one else.

On the other hand, all this thought and feeling, much of it probably rooted in the experience and observations of fatherhood, motivates me to greater social interest and compassion for those who do not inhabit that little circle of caring made of wife, son, and a few others who comprise the people who matter most to me.

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Stuff I’ve Been Thinking About

Blog Posts

My blog posts, in grammar, content, and style, tend to have the character of telephone pad doodles or the things one writes in the margins while taking notes during a meeting, lecture, or while reading a book.  Mistaken is the person who expects this or any blog to conform to scholastic ideals of “penmanship” or rigid notions of propriety.

Stodgy Canoe Guy

One of the things I like about paddling is the woodsy ambiance or vibe associated with paddling.  It’s especially evident in the preoccupation with things like sandpaper, tung oil, needle-and-thread, preparedness, self-reliance and mutual aid.  And the clothes.  At least the clothes I wear – floppy hat, old permanent press work shirt, long baggy shorts, etc.  For the most part cheap, plain-looking clothes that dry quickly.  I’ll leave the bright colors to the guys zipping around on jet-skiis.

Other Drivers on the Road

Something is wrong with the people who drive their cars, outer elbow (because this is probably true in England as well as America) on the window ledge and forearm hanging down against the outside of the car-door, palm backward, resembling to me a large, usually fat, white-bellied dead fish.  It’s like the driver lacks the energy or some other quality of life that separates the living from zombie-like necessary to so much as control all of his or her limbs, in addition to operating a motor vehicle.  Usually, this type of motorist drives too slowly and seems to take pleasure in aggravating the drivers behind them who, for some reason, cannot yet pass them.  Also, and this is similarly galling, this sort of driver seems to be saying, “I AM TOO BIG, THIS CAR CANNOT CONTAIN ME, I AM BURSTING OUT OF THIS CAR!” which is, in itself, pretty offensive.

I think license plates on vehicles should bear some device or color-coded tag that allows other motorists to determine at a glance the vehicle owner’s Performance Intelligence Quotient (or PREFERABLY some entirely new measure of intelligence specific to motor vehicle operation).  Maybe something that could be abbreviated DIQ.  Drivers are going to let you know all about theirs, anyway, but it would be nice to know at a glance in order to plan lane changes and passing before it becomes necessary to dodge some erratic manifestation of deficiency or impaired ability.  Drivers with seriously impaired DIQs could be required to drive vehicles like that Obama soap-bubble, the so-called “Smart Car” – that way when they crash their vehicles into other vehicles or buildings they will do less harm to other people.

The use of cellular telephones by anyone operating a motor vehicle should be prohibited; pull over to talk on the phone.

Feeling Rich

When I bought that canoe Ohio last week, then took it to the White River and paid the outfitter there a measly $13.00 for shuttle service, I felt rich.  A man who has his own canoe is a man of substance, and a man who can use his own strength and sense to propel it on the water’s surface is a man who feels rich, indeed.

I do not know why, having owned five folding kayaks, I never felt that way before about owning and paddling that type of boat.  Folding kayaks are uniquely beautiful.  They tend to be more expensive to purchase than canoes.  I think the difference is a sense of permanence.  A folding kayak is designed to be put away or packed for easy transportation to the location of its intended use, whereas an aluminum canoe is designed to retain its shape and withstand the elements through time.  True it is that folding kayaks are designed likewise to last through time.  The most recent of these that I have purchased was manufactured around 1962 and was watertight when I got it.  The Grumman canoe is 36 years old, the Pionier kayak is 47.

I felt a bitter sense of loss when it was time to put the canoe in to the barn loft at the farm last Friday.  The feeling is similar to what I experience every time I disassemble one of my kayaks.  The feeling roughly translates thus, “Have I used this boat for the last time?  Is this the last time I perform this task?”  What doesn’t translate neatly in to words is the knowledge that some or other that will be the case.  I will use my kayak or canoe for the last time, and I may not know the experience is my last with that boat until time provides a vantage point for perspective, or events translate me in to the past tense and my next phase of existence.

These unpleasant feelings that I wish to repress seem consistent with an unconscious fear of death, although I seem to be in fairly robust good health at present.  As a young drunkard 26 or 27 years ago, I sought but did not find death.  As a man in middle age I seem to be aware of other feelings pertaining to my mortality.  Although they are clearly as long-lasting as any hardshell paddlecraft, the folding kayak has an ephemeral quality – skin stretched over a frame operated by whatever it is that I consist of – that is similar to that of man and animal.

Mortality

Yesterday I read this interview feature quoting Clint Eastwood’s reasonable response to the criticism he’s received from Spike Lee. Look at the guy’s face in the photo. He’s gotten old.

When I was a kid, I mean in elementary school, I remember we, the boys, used to love talking about war movies we’d seen on TV. That was back when it was a big deal to see a fairly recent motion picture televised. Like ABC’s Movie of The Week. One of our school yard favorites was that Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland movie about a bunch of WWII soldiers in Europe stealing SS gold with the collusion of the Panzer commander guarding the treasure.

I’m more than halfway to old, now. Last night, I woke up thinking about Clint Eastwood: Old Man, and then thought about the passage of time, or my journey through time, and how I’ll end up old someday pretty soon. Contrasted that with infant son sleeping in his bassinet. Will he remember me as the active and healthy man in early middle age I am, now, or as whatever it is I’ll be when I die?

Mom, younger brother, me (on the camel), and Dad wearing Burmuda shorts and I Spy shades

My father died at the age of 58 after having lived more than a hundred normal human years. I remember him as the angry tyrant I loved carrying us through Europe wearing Bermuda shorts and Robert Culp I Spy sunglasses – shades, he always called them. I remember spending Saturdays going to garage sales with him. I remember his road rage – that’s where I learned about creative name-calling. I remember his funny voices and the brilliant way he was able to do impressions of popular and classic actors. Probably the actors he grew up watching at the cinema. I remember Dad’s sailboat, and our nocturnal scavenging sessions at local boatyards picking up a sail here, an outboard motor there. I remember more than I’ll write here. I remember Dad throughout my life up to the time he died.

His birthday was in early June. I can’t even remember the date. I don’t remember the year or the date he died, either. Strange lack of recollection. Dad was one of about three people I always knew loved me. He was the one who disappointed me most frequently. Those disappointments were agonizing.