Monday, December 10, 2012
"Last scene of all ...."
That well-known "seven ages of man" speech that Jaques makes in As You Like It has become less amusing as I've gotten older. I liked the "mewling and puking" parts, earlier. The schoolboy and lover sections. The soldier. Lately, though, as I have moved through those stages he calls "the justice" and the "lean and slipper'd pantaloon," well, those parts are just not so entertaining, you know?
Before we proceed, here's the whole speech:
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
This past weekend I visited my mom for a few days in the nursing home in Lenox, Massachusetts, where she's recovering from a fall. (Nothing broken but her pride--but that is no minor matter in a 93-year-old.) And I got to thinking ...
Nursing homes terrified me when I was a child. Among my early memories is visiting my great-grandmother Osborn, who was deep in dementia; she had no idea who I was. Which, at the time, was for me a great relief. She said things that made no sense, looking wildly at me from her bed, as if I were some creature that had wandered out of a bestiary. She surely saw the same look in my eyes as I regarded her.
Later, a boy of nine or so, I visited my grandmother Dyer in a nursing home in Oregon. She, too, was losing her grip on reality, but I remember she convulsed me with a story about a man she'd known who'd been struck in the head by lightning. He wasn't ever the same afterward, she said. And I fell down on the floor laughing--an act that horrified my mother but delighted my grandmother, who began to laugh wildly, too. When I stood, I saw in her eyes that she recognized in me a kindred spirit. The feeling was mutual. Fellow creatures in the bestiary.
My great-grandfather Lanterman would have nothing to do with nursing homes. And so--for a time--he lived with us in Hiram, Ohio, then with his daughter, my grandmother, out in Oklahoma, where, visiting, I asked him how he was doing. A thoughtless, youthful, arrogant question. He was living in bed at that point. He looked at me as if I were the daftest damn creature on the planet: "I can't even wind my goddamn watch!" he barked at me. And Grandpa Lanterman's bark and bite were still formidable, even into his 90s. I backed away, wary of fangs.
My dad never wanted to be in a nursing home--but he spent his final months in a couple of them. He was not happy about it. But my mother simply could not take care of him any longer, and his medical needs were accelerating as he got older. One thing that happened that amused his sons and annoyed his wife: He lost many of his social inhibitions--and freely flirted with the young women who dealt with him in the nursing home. One day I was sitting with him, a young woman entered, and Dad perked up immediately, saying to her: "You're fine ... how am I?" Dad never said things like that when he was younger (was he thinking them? probably? ... definitely?), but they flew from his mouth more and more as he neared the end.
TOMORROW ... a bit more ...