no one held a gun to my head
No one was holding a gun to my head when I did it, that’s a fact. According to my philosophy professor, it has been debated as to whether one’s life experiences, impressions, teachings and upbringings are the metaphysical equivalent to the proverbial gun to your head when making life’s choices. Not a tube of convincing steel waiting to explode and end your life, but rather, all those influences form a long, clearly defined path leading to that point where your life might end. It was like that for me when I joined the Unification Church. (and, I suppose, when I left it) I can see the truth in that. A deliberate, rushing of events, gathering speed and power, meeting at a point in time, and ending my life as I knew it. And then, the coming out the other side, there was a lot of crying when I joined the church. I bawled like a baby every day, listening to the teachings, reading the Bible, feeling invisible puzzle pieces coming together and joining perfectly, as if by magic. The tears were washing me clear, I imagined. The more I cried, the more I separated, drop by drop, from the world I left behind. They made an impassable river, those tears. They were a barrier of safety for me. I stepped onto an island, led by the hand by angels, I was certain, and sealed my exit with that moat of tears.
I mention this because in witnessing the passing of my parents, I saw the same phenomenon of inevitable events manifesting. The timing of it all, the details of it all leave me in a kind of wonder and an overall feeling of trust and love remains.
One Friday more than four years ago, three people died in the ER, one after another. My role was family support. The first was an elderly woman whose death was expected – but you never really expect death, I think, just the way you are never really ever ready to have a baby, no matter how carefully you plan. Birth and death are events in the flow of life that one can never fully prepare for, you can pretend you are ready, but trust me, you are not. You simply meet these moments, like ocean waves that wash over you, and ride them as best you can. Every birth is different, every child different, every death, also, must be different. My midwife told me that a baby’s labor is indicative of her future temperament. If the labor is long and arduous, watch out, she said, this child may put you through a lot of grief as they grow. Strange, I found the opposite to nearly be true: my daughter, with whom I labored intensely for 20 hours is now the balm of Gilead to my heart. My son, with whom labor was almost as sensual as lovemaking, was nearly the death of me because of his own brush with death. My dewdrop.
The second death that Friday was of a young man. Sudden. Classic case of a massive heart attack, said the doctor. He felt tired, unusually so, the day before, and threw up once in the evening. His mother, with whom he lived, thought it was a passing stomach virus. Anyone would have thought the same. The next morning, the young man, feeling better, went in the yard to rake leaves. Returning to the house, he simply collapsed. When the doctor told her that her son was dead, the woman let out a howl. We expected it, the howl. The doctor and I were both mothers of sons.
“If there is a God, she’s doing a lousy job. It won’t be alright for a long time and it’ll only get worse. I buried my husband. It just gets worse. ”
God or no god, death sucks.
Much later, after I escorted the woman to view her son’s body and then out of the hospital to return to her now empty home, another person decided to die in the ER. An older man, with an entourage of sons and daughters and sons in law and daughters in law milling about before, during and after the code blue. This was a room full of glittering diamonds and Birkin bags, tailored suits and blackberries. None of the wealth could stop this death either.
I went home, dropped my bags on the kitchen floor and wrapped my arms around my skinny daddy and cried, first silently, then with noisy sobs. He tried his best to push me away; Chinese men of his generation don’t say I love you and they don’t really hug either, not in any prolonged manner at least, but I overpowered him, would not release him, and after several attempts to disengage from the embarrassment I was creating, he sad, “stop, stop or you ‘ll make me cry too!” But I couldn’t stop. Even then, before the kidney cancer ravages began, I could feel every bony rib pressed against my fat forty-something flesh. It was like embracing a scarecrow, or one of those skeletons we used in anatomy class. I imagined him animated on nothing but vapors and an 88 year old idea.
Tim saw us and mumbled something like, “I can’t watch this kind of thing,” and went downstairs to his studio.
Photo: River of Gold, Renee Folzenlogen