It is difficult explaining to a child, even one who has reached the age of 40, that you once knew all there was to know. They are certain they know more than you, and they know all there is to know so, a fortiori, you could not know all that there is to know, period. They will say this with a certain smugness born, they believe, of the knowledge that they know quite everything. But there is still a perverse pleasure in watching their smugness collapse like a house of cards in a storm, when you remind them that there was so much less to know when you knew everything, and so it will be for their children when the reckoning comes.
It has taken 67 years, but I have finally arrived at what I want to do and be when I finally grow up, which should happen any day now, but please don’t hold your breath.
In this modern age, there is an ever present and growing need for euphemists, and I am perfectly suited for it.
Just this month I could have offered social distancing, not to mention those who now must shelter in place everywhere, and I’m working on several more, though I may no longer have time on my hands, for I know if I did I’d have to immediately wash them.
They brought him myrrh on a flaming salver and all he could do was say “This is something I would expect from a butcher or a carpenter, and the camera angles would never work, so bring me napalm or punji stakes that we have proven to work.” They brought him ripe oranges and the sweet meat of the pineapple, its juice dripping from his chin, and all he could do was tighten his grip on the AK-47 and dream of night on the edge of the jungle. They brought him Rodin, Matisse, Rembrant van Rijn, and Blake, but all he would see was Bosch and Goya, and then only by the light of fading candles. They brought him the String Quartet in A Major played on Strads and Guarnaris, but he wanted the retort of the howitzer the crump of the mortar, the screams of the child. They brought him his child wrapped in bandages missing fingers and toes, and all he wanted was the nursery, a newborn in swaddling, suckling her breast as he stroked her head and remembered the moment of her creation.
First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008)
Ever since I was a child I spoke a language known only to me. I’ve had great conversations on all matters and weighty topics. I don’t speak this language in public, for people are increasingly scared of things they assume to be foreign and truth shown to them is no defense. That, and I’m certain some would think me crazy, like the one man who overheard me and said as much to his imaginary friend. And that’s the key difference: everyone knows imaginary friends can’t answer you, you’d be nuts to think otherwise, but to speak a language known only to yourself and to speak it fluently, is a linguistic feat not to be trifled with.
She stares at the menu, her eyes incandesce brighter than an eight year old’s should be able. And I can eat everything on the menu, she says to herself, her smile broadening, as she thinks and they may enjoy it too, and I can move them one more step in the right direction. She has been a vegetarian for six months, since the day she declared to the waiter that she would never again eat a dead animal, and she has held to it without fail since. She says her father is almost a pescatarian, and she whispers in an aside that close to vegetarian and an easy move once you are there. Her four year old brother laughs and says today I’m vegetarian too, and the waitress laughs and thinks in a vegan restaurant, that is a universal truth.
It hardly seems all that long ago when we were immortal, when we measured our days by the number of dares we undertook, each with its own level of stupidity which we took, mistakenly, for courage. We are older now, we would like to think far wiser as well, but the line between truth and illusion is thin and almost impossible to discern. We now measure our days in open rooms with small clusters of neatly arrayed chairs
and the odd table piled with magazines that have faded with time and disuse, occasionally a fish tank where it is hard to tell who is less interested we or the fish, but they, at least, aren’t waiting for the nurse to call us, take our vitals and say in a shocking display of honesty, “the doctor will be with you eventually.”
We now live in a strange world where nothing is as it was mere weeks ago. I am blessed to live on a small nature preserve and have been spending my afternoons with camera in hand. So if you want something other than words (which follow) you are welcome to visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/98342503@N00/, my Flickr site, which is updated daily. A sample of what you will find:
It seems odd how often our fathers depart suddenly, our mothers make a slower retreat, slipping away while always still present, a death by 1000 days, the cuts inflicted on our psyche, small wounds that never fully heal, but fade, so the scars are only seen and felt from the inside. My parents never did things as expected, so my mother complained bitterly of the small difficulties of life, until the morning she suddenly departed, at the stroke of 6:15 while my father lingers, still happy in ever shortening increments, both of us knowing he is fading away and I may never know he has departed after he is gone.
He is four, has been for five months now, but when you ask them how old he will be at his next birthday he doesn’t pause, says, “thirteen,” with a smile that shouts, “yes I know how to count quite well, but sometimes I just choose not to!” He is slowing down, actually, the last week he decided he was seven and decided he would be 27 on his next birthday. I am certain it has nothing at all to do with the presents his classmate’s brother got his Bar Mitzvah, but there is something in the smile of a Jewish four-year-old that reminds even a grandfather who long ago gave up the faith that there is something magical about turning thirteen despite the ever dreaded thank you notes.