Monday, August 20, 2012
Let No Man Nor Woman Pre-Write My Epitaph
Last Friday as I was leaving my doctor’s office, heading toward the elevator, I overheard a woman having a very disturbing conversation on her cell. I say ‘disturbing’ because it was not your typical exchange between two friends shooting the usual shit. The voice wore this defeated pitch and aggravated tone of a woman who was dying. It was far too early in the day to get so deep, or to be so dour. Yes, when you really consider the Essential Truth of Life, we are all dying, and we begin that process as soon as we’re born. But to hear this woman tell it, she was not even sure if she’d make it for another “week.” In fact, she seemed extremely convinced that she'd be gone, finis, nevermore, and life as she knew it would be some event within the past-tense in less than seven days time.
Her exact words: “I told him it don’t even matter any more. I don’t have much time. I’ll be dead by next week.”
I tried to act casual as if I didn’t just hear her speak those words. But sensitive soul that I am (some might even say punk-ass), it truly stopped me in my tracks... and it made me pause.
This was a very serious place of business. It's an all-inclusive medical center and I was in the cardiology building. The doctors and specialists there tend to give it to you straight, no chaser, and there are times when I’m not so sure if that’s my preferred method of receiving bad or terminal information about my health. For instance, it was at this very same facility last year that I received the troubling news that people with my particular heart condition usually lived “five years after diagnosis.”
I would never be the same again after that statement. It left behind this profound effect. A sobering reality came over me. I guess you could call it a concentrated Sense of Purpose. I went into this daze and it morphed into disbelief, and anger, and then from anger into a case of sheer panic: OH-MY-GOD! Five YEARS! Just FIVE YEARS?! I can’t possibly do all I want to do, need to do, dreamed I’d do in FIVE YEARS!
I left that place deeply depressed, but with an attitude that I was not about to waste a single day on bullshit or bullshit people. I've done my best to keep that promise. I’d all these beautiful plans and suddenly I was given this impossible timeline in which to make those plans a reality, or else that fated Jeopardy BUZZER would sound (ANNNNNT!) on me, and I’d be just another one of those fools who planned and schemed and died with most of his dreams unrealized.
This is why I’d been in this Strict Determination Mode of having, needing, desperately desiring to finish editing my next novel, to release it into the world, and wanting it to be PERFECT... knowing full damn well that nothing is EVER perfect, nor will it ever be. I just feel that artists who leave behind serious, probing, illuminating works are the ones, who, generations from now, will still be remembered… long after they’ve gone on to that great Algonquin Round-table In The Sky… and beyond.
We people who create can be strange, single-minded and a totally different breed. Most folks leave children behind, and they are more than contented and satisfied that this will be their legacy, the physical evidence that they were once here on earth… and that’s wonderful. But children are human beings, first, and all human beings are assigned to these impossibly unfair and often random life spans... and what then? At least with art, there’s a chance that it will live on to feed, to nourish, entertain and inspire others for perhaps centuries to come. And so, my noble goal has been to make Fine Art in my finite time here, and to leave behind this undying entity, perhaps even this deeply immortal evidence that, yes, I once existed and I had a story to tell and some lesson to impart about Life. That’s it. That’s all.
Anyway, that’s MY goal. But this entry isn’t really supposed to be about ME and my dreams!
So, upon hearing this woman speaking of her death and its probable arrival being “next week”, which is now THIS WEEK, if her claim or her morbid declaration is to be believed… it was extremely bothersome to me. However, no matter what she thought and no matter what her doctor might have told her, Doctors AREN’T GOD… and as such, we really should NOT put too much trust or stock into their predictions.
This was a youngish black woman, maybe about 35 or 40. She didn’t appear to be particularly sickly and certainly not even close to looking as if she were in her final days of life.
As I entered the elevator and rode it to the lobby, all alone, her words haunted me slowly. I gather she had some terminal disease, and that perhaps she was just tired of dealing with that specter of impending death looming over her head.
I know and have known people like that, and I just can’t comprehend how they do it or get through it, day in and day out. Does that knowledge (of their death) become their friend, their hangout partner... or does it become their enemy?
But then my mind veered into this other darker place.
How can anyone, not confined to their deathbed, seemingly able-bodied, still appearing to be sane, clothed and in their right mind possibly be so certain of when their end will come? Hmmm… Was SHE considering the possibility of ending her own life? Had she already decided? Maybe she planned to go out on her own terms (much like director Tony Scott just did. RIP, Mr. Scott). It occurs to me that this would be the ONLY way someone could speak with such morbid certainty on when they would die.
But then again, maybe for some of us, if we’ve been around long enough to have experienced people dying who were once close to us, there’s this sixth sense knowing/feeling that can come over you, and it almost whispers: this will be the last time you’ll ever see this person alive again.
I recall the feeling in the late 80s and early 90s as I would see old friends who looked so thin and frail and sickly and sad, as if they were wearing their illness like an old overcoat that didn’t fit gracefully upon their spirits… and was then that this whispering thing would occur to me. I HATED that feeling. I hated that I was getting to be too damned accurate at FEELING it, and then having to deal with the sudden repercussions of it.
I still, to this day, pray for them.
Anyway… before the tears begin to fall and I lose all track of my thoughts, what I’m really trying to say is that this woman on the phone, speaking of her upcoming demise has been on a loop inside my mind. Maybe she was being a realist and maybe she was just completely accepting of her fate, but I don’t think it’s HEALTHY to speak that way, to say NO to life, to embrace dying or to accept one’s death in this almost casual conversational way. I think, maybe it pisses off God. It seems as if, when one does this, they are calling upon some self-fulfilling prophesy.
Everything happens in its own time, and according to The Creator’s Plan. Not any man's... no matter how learned or degreed... and we certainly can't predict our final strut and fret nor our last dance upon this stage.
Yes, when you really consider the naked Truth of Life, we are all going to die, and we begin that process as soon as we’re born.
And the rest..? Well… that’s really not for me to say.