24 February 2020

the beginning and the end

In the greater middle portion of your life, you like to feel like you're in at least partial control. You may make mistakes but you may have some influence over the next thing to happen or tomorrow. You sometimes seem to have only yourself to blame when things don't go right, whatever that is seen to be. And then there's when you are really young or dead. It all just is. You can holler or struggle or just be still.

I'm reading The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. There are plenty of good sentences but this one on page 16 stood out: "Being on an airplane, even in coach, was the closest an adult could come to the splendid helplessness of infancy." You're just there, for the duration of the flight you cannot move a whole lot, you can't pick from a variety of food and drink and activity. You can prepare but you're mostly helpless beyond a certain point. It's only good if you let the helplessness be splendid. My mom said I'd just happily sit in my playpen when I was an infant, probably running a little car back and forth. Her friends wondered if something was wrong with me, if I were perhaps a little "slow."

On the other end of life, we are often equally as helpless though maybe have too much awareness of our helplessness. There was an article in the New York Times on Thursday (February 20, 2020) entitled "Final moments for all to see" about taking pictures of people who had recently died. The online version of the story is called "The iPhone at the deathbed." The article also talks about the preparation of the body for the picture. There are various terms for the folks who will help you but I think I like "death doula" best. Amy Cunningham, a funeral director in Brooklyn, describes how she was talking to a group of Unitarians in Albany and said that she thought the dead person would want to look their best. A nonagenarian in the back of the room yelled out "You'll get over that!" Her reflection on that experience was that it "got [her] thinking. Wouldn't it be wonderful to die unfettered and free from worrying about how [you] look?" More splendid helplessness, even if you don't know about it.

You do know about how worried you have been all your life about how you looked. Another article in Thursday's paper, entitled "Paramedical tattooos: when ink is the Rx," was about tattoo artists who do healing tattoos like fingernail images on the tips of fingers which have been cut off in an accident. They also might do scar or blemish covering, the point being a subtle blending in with the rest of the person's skin. My nose reconstructions have left me not wishing to have my photograph taken and worried about the misshapen nose. Still I don't feel helpless (most of the time) and I'd rather tell the story about the scars than go through a bunch of operations to smooth it all out, especially since they'd probably not succeed. So the lesson is to do the best you can with what you've got and be patient if you're riding in coach. It will soon be over ... or not.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi, Sherman! Happy to have found your blog! Thanks for the link! I look forward to catching up with your thoughts. Love and blessings to you, Jo