Thursday, September 6, 2012
To sleep ... perchance ...
I could not get out of bed when I was an adolescent. Only the most dire (!) threats booming up the stairs from my father's voice would finally alert that self-preservative part of my brain that switched on, alerted the rest of my brain and body (I know: false dualism) that it was probably time to get up. It was not a good day to die.
Did you just lose a lot of respect for my father?
Dad had a wonderful lyric tenor voice, actually, and had once entertained opera ambitions. He made some records which we've transferred to various media over the years (Dad on MP3!), and they still move me to tears.
But the "School Bell Song" (or whateverthehell he called it) moved me to violence ... well, to contemplate violence, a contemplation that quickly withered on its flimsy stalk when I considered the object of that violence was my father, who could have dispatched me with the flick of a wrist. A gnat, a fly, a mote was I to him ...
Dad would go through the bell-and-song routine three times. The third he finished invariably with the words: Last call! These words delivered with apocalyptic tone and with all the gravity of God--the Old Testament one.
So up I jumped ... well, staggered. The sound of the shower mollified him, cooled the god's fevered, wrathful brow. And I lived to sleep late another day.
In more rational times Dad would wonder why I couldn't get up. My reply never varied: I just can't!
And he--a former farm boy who rose at five every day, cheerful and frisky (I know this only because of family car trips and tiny motel rooms jammed with all five of us)--would say: Son, when you get to be my age, you'll get up early.
Dad is so stupid! I thought. There is no way ...
Now, of course, I get up at five and have done so for years. No, I'm not more virtuous. I just can't sleep any later. Part of it is the Old Man's Curse (TMI Warning!): cranky bladder. I'm up several times a night for that reason. And when I make my final visit of the night, I have to fight to prevent my Rational Brain from firing up because once that happens, all hope is lost. Then my mind's aswirl with chores to do, things to write, ideas for Daily Doggerel, and on and on. And timorous Night retreats, even in the winter when it's pitch black outside.
I was very moved by his words. He articulated so well so many things I've thought (and isn't that one definition of a good book? one that states our thoughts more clearly than we could?), including his realization when he received the (bad) results of his biopsy that he was right then living the last day of his old life.
I felt that very thing when I got my own biopsy results in late 2004. And my life since then has been very, very different from what had occurred before.
Of course, we feel other, usually less aversive, versions of this at other times in our lives--going away to school, marrying, having a child, changing jobs, retiring--that sort of thing. But as Hitchens wrote, it's entirely different to exit the Land of the Living and cross the border into the Land of the Dying--from whose bourn no traveller returns, as some Prince of Denmark supposedly said Back When.
Sometimes, that border crossing is swift and even out of awareness (a quick fatal accident). Other times, it's long. Protracted. Painful. I had a dear aunt--a tall, strong, vigorous woman. But cancer took care of her. It took years, but by the end, Aunt Naomi was a withered, bent woman in a wheelchair, a woman who could not do a single thing for herself. A woman none of her youthful friends would even have recognized. And as they lowered her into her grave, the Challenger was exploding over Florida ...
But these are dark thoughts, and this is a bright day in northeastern Ohio. A day to treasure, no matter which side of the border you are on.