MEMORIES POP-UP at random times during a lifetime, sometimes triggered by music, return to a familiar place, a sudden thought about a particular person, an old photograph; it could be any of a number of things. Today, a song on the radio took me back to a long ago event. It was one of those pleasant recollections that had me reminiscing for a while; the kind that prompts one to wonder aloud, “Where did the time go?” |
That got me off on a sidetrack of wondering about what my final memory will be—you know, just before the lights go out, the music fades, and all goes silent behind my eyes. Further, I find myself occasionally speculating about “last-time” events; e.g., the last time I’ll run a certain route, the last time I’ll play tennis on a certain court, the last subject I’ll write about, the last time I’ll travel overseas—that kind of thing. I don’t consider this contemplation gloomy; merely an unknown and unknowable curiosity. We’ve all experienced some of those “never-agains”. For example, it’s a cinch I will not return to West Africa, Saudi Arabia, and play on the red clay of Pau, France.
Here’s what got me to pursue the sidetrack…
I mentioned in my last essay that Hospice workers report that passing is peaceful, and often joyful; those leaving getting a glimpse of what’s on the other side. Steve Jobs final words were reported to be, “Oh, wow! Oh, wow! Oh, wow!” Some say the phenomenon is a vision of an afterlife; others opine it’s a state of euphoria as a result of the brain shutting down. We know people with Parkinson’s Disease hallucinate. Does the process of death emulate Parkinson’s?
But what about those trapped in an airplane plummeting toward the ground? What about murder victims or those blown up on a battlefield? Do they have the same experience? If so, I’ve never read an account, but then again, how could I? It’s an incongruous juxtaposition of incompatibilities.
Why do I wonder about this stuff? I write it off to controlled insanity. At least controlled enough to stay ahead of the boys with the white jackets. Hoo-Hah!
In an attempt to perceive what my final moment will be like, I closed my eyes, emptied my awareness trying to achieve a Zen Buddhist’s beginners mind—and laid back. As I went into deep relaxation, and zoned out into a hypnotic trance, scenes unfolded before me like a motion pictures in glorious technicolor detail. (I just let it happen, curious to see what popped up.)
The first was me as a toddler standing in my crib, and being captivated by a picture hanging on the wall. It was Donald Duck in bas relief and brilliant color. He was fuzzy to the touch. I liked it. More visions of the same time frame: Me peeking out the window of our third story apartment watching Dad leave, and hours later, return from his job. One emotion was sad; the other happy. I knew I hadn’t turned three yet because at that age we moved to a different town. Other scenes appeared, but are too routine to record here.
Well, one more. When I was almost four, Mom came home from the hospital with my brother, Jim. I rushed into the parlor, and found an infant sleeping in a bassinet. Man, was I disappointed! I thought I’d have an instant playmate. He just laid there. I figured I’d been bamboozled. When Mom came home with Thom two years later, I was better prepared.
As I went into deeper relaxation, unwelcome apparitions appeared. I was older; an adult. The scenes were dark and full of demons, but familiar. I’ve spent much of my life trying to purge them, but they are stubborn; implacable. The scenes will not stay buried, and return intermittently as a nagging reminder of past sins—failures as a son, brother, boyfriend, husband, and father. I remember as a youngster being warned that black deeds were a constant punishment because they were forever locked in your subconscious only to return at inconvenient moments. Some refer to the phenomenon as Jewish or Catholic guilt. It’s bad what goes on inside. I have a sad heart, stomped on, fevered and corrupted; and a brain that boils in a ferment of awful dreams. I guess it all goes back to St. Augustine. We choose the good—or the evil. And pay the price.
Most are too embarrassing, too appalling to share, and I hesitated to write this essay, and reveal my innate ratbastardliness. After some struggle, I chose to come clean, and use the revelation as my individual auto-da-fé (act of faith) that, while uncomfortable, is not nearly as brutal as the auto-da-fé pyres sanctioned by Pope Sixtus IV, and carried out by the Inquisitions in Portugal and Spain originally under Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile the very same pair that bankrolled Columbus.
However, there is one I’m willing to mention that still makes me shudder. Our daughter was maybe four, and was tended during working hours by a neighbor who lived a block behind us. Day-after-day, I allowed our innocent little one to walk there unaccompanied because—get this—I couldn’t be bothered. Given all the creeps and predators in the country, what the hell was I thinking? When I see her adult form today, I gasp at what might have been, and thank God she is with us. Guilt for the selfish oversight? In spades even now. I think of other times when I made others sad or cry; especially those who love me unconditionally, and I am mortified.
But who am I kidding? One man’s rationality is another’s madness. Nothing ever really adds up. Either the premises are faulty or the reasoning blows. We are all pincushions, lanced by feelings, full of wounds and pains. “Reason” is the lie, the balm we apply pretending that if we were just smart enough we’d make some sense of what hurts.
I am rational enough to know that I must not allow the past to shape my future, but the images hang over my head like that permanent rain cloud over Al Capp’s hapless Joe Bltsflk. Lessons learned? For sure, but the bitter taste lingers.
Other more pleasant images included watching Kay walk down the aisle on our wedding day. We were married at Frank Lloyd Wright’s glass church in the Portuguese Bend section of Palos Verdes, California. It overlooks the Pacific Ocean, and the ceremony took place just before sundown. The beautiful venue paled in comparison to Kay. She absolutely glowed. If I could choose my last scene in life, that would be it.
The first moments I beheld our daughter and son were likewise captivating. She was sleeping in a glass enclosure, and he was being cleaned up by a nurse—and not liking it one bit. Both times I was astonished to realize that Kay and I had created life. The scenes are still crystal clear—like they occurred yesterday.
A not so pleasant memory occurred almost immediately after first viewing our daughter. In those days, when they brought the babies to the mothers, the rest of us were kicked-out of the natal care unit. It was beautiful April morning, and as Kay’s mother and I walked to the lobby we passed a pay phone. A gentleman in his late 40s or early 50s was crying mournfully into the handset. I overheard him say he had just been given a few weeks to live. In spite of the joyful moment, his news grabbed me by the throat. In empathy, I wept softly. I have never forgotten that moment, and in my Zen state, the scene played for me again. The cycle-of-life fulfilled within minutes. Bittersweet.
I have been fortunate in this existence to have traveled extensively, and have experienced numerous cultures, and made many overseas friends. Some highlights include: incarcerated in Baghdad (not pleasant, but forever burned into my memory bank), spending open-air, starry nights in the Saudi Arabian desert, playing tennis on the red clay in France and grass in Australia, running the streets of Celle, Germany after dark, taking a whiz off a wall into a canyon with Italian dinner mates in Saline de Voltera, playing billiards in Amsterdam, having drinks and dinner in Pau, France with a group of people who initially wanted to do me harm, etc., etc. All special memories, but probably won’t make the top ten.
Save for a hypnotic spell, none of us have control over images that form and project during an unconscious moment. Otherwise, why would dreams—most of which we have little recall—be so abstract? In antiquity rulers had wizards who could supposedly interpret dreams for the purpose of predicting the future. Sorry, but I’m skeptical. In my opinion, nobody—and I mean nobody—knows anything that’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old.
Unfortunately, I won’t be able to report back; write a final essay. Houdini promised to, but if he couldn’t, well, you know…
By Gene Myers. Warning: I brake for hallucinations.
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MEMORIES, Hospice, Steve Jobs, Zen, guilt, rationality, madness, Frank Lloyd Wright's glass church, Houdini,