I found out tonight that another person I know and love dearly has cancer. What the fuck? What is this cancer shit? It’s like some alien blob that just invades a person and pops up wherever the fuck it wants to. Then it becomes, and I mean this in no disrespect, like the trouble with tribbles. It breeds like sex-addicted bunnies and it’s all over the place! Leave us alone, cancer! And it’s so indiscriminate! Wouldn’t it be sweet if it took out only the evil? The greedy, the killers, the racists and the rapists? That’s what cancer should actually be – some sort of cosmic punisher. Like someone would say, shit, I have cancer and you could then ask, what the fuck did you do that was truly evil? And they’d have to admit it and make amends, change their entire way of life, and then, and only then, would cancer go into remission. See, that would make sense about cancer. But the way it is now, cancer is its own evil. Preying on whomever – the most innocent, the average, the amazing, and also, sometimes, the evil. And there’s no remission based on the lives, actions, and intentions of the victims. Cancer is stupid and yet apparently smarter than we are. You folks want to believe in a devil? You got it. Cancer. Now we’ve got to find a real god to banish cancer to the depths of hell and beyond. To never rear its ugly head again. God bless you, PB.
I feel like I should say something about Black Friday starting on Thursday. It’s anti-family, anti-Thanksgiving, anti-American, and pro-conspicuous consumption for people who honestly think they’ll save a few bucks, while good people have to leave Thanksgiving dinner and their families for some small number of fools who’ll think they’ll save those few bucks on some piece of electronics, that, and I have it on good information, is sub par garbage that is made by sub par companies that is re-branded as whatever the fools think they’re buying. That 50 inch Panasonic TV is made by some crap company just to fill this pathetic need that doesn’t exist but for the rush for Black Friday Door Buster savings. You lose, the workers and their families lose, we all lose. Stay home and love the people you love. Get up as early on Black Friday as you want, but don’t encroach on Thanksgiving Day. Unless you hate the people who are manning the cash registers and floors of the stores you charge into. You think you save a few bucks, but they and their families’ get fucked. And ultimately so do you.
You know you have those books you were supposed to read but you never did – the great big classics – Moby Dick, anything by Tolstoy, some great early feminist novel, but you never did and while you feel some sort of guilt, you also know that there are a billion books and you cannot be expected to know all of them and if someone wants to call you out on one book then screw ‘em.
That being said, you absolutely HAVE TO READ “All Quiet on the Western Front.” I was obliquely aware of it and especially in the praise of it. I knew it was a “war novel” and while I’ve enjoyed novels with war in them, I was no aficionado. But still it was impressed upon me that this book was IMPORTANT. And it is.
I finally nabbed it from my mother’s bookshelf while we were preparing her move and eventually picked it up to actually read. A slim little book so I figured, might’s well have at it.
This book has changed my life. I think I needed to be transported through amazing language to the dirty, wet, filthy, angry, bloody, stinky, trenches of war. This book does that. And while I know that modern warfare is different, I can only assume that many of the same emotions and fears and bewilderment that Erich Maria Remarque felt are also felt by terribly young, modern soldiers as well. War is war.
It stopped me in my tracks. I always knew war was bad and opposed it mostly as again, a modern, basically aware man, but this flung it all right up into my perfectly safe – thanks to soldiers, and diplomats, and peaceniks, and generally good people – face. I know I can’t know what any soldier in the blaze of war goes through, but this guy gives you a pretty fucking good idea in this book. And to say, it ain’t pretty, would be pantywaist’s clever turn of a phrase. It’s blood ugly.
It shames a person for so many reasons; we’re part of the humanity who creates these situations, we make war. But also because I’ve never had to experience what the soldiers do – not the fucking generals, by the way – but the frontline slugs. I’ve always been basically physically perfectly safe, I’ve never lacked a meal or something to eat, alcohol is always available and affordable. But not for these guys; not at all.
A piece of bread, a sip of cognac is everything. Especially after a day of shelling and explosions, dismemberment and splashing blood, looking into the eye of the man you are about to kill. That’s the cutting edge of life, at its worst.
I read much of this in a comfortable chair overlooking a glistening Lake Superior, safe and sound. But read a book that struck the fear of our manmade devils right into my heart.
So my buddy was telling me about somebody he knows who somehow knows one of the really, really big Hollywood producers, like, just hugely big, like, you know, worth bajillions of dollars and produces movies and tv and whatever, whatever it is they do, and in that sick Hollywood culture people would literally just drop down on their knees and suck his dick to just to get him to read or to look at their, you know, script or to get it produced or whatever so and the guy is you know and he, and he lives it and acts it and he’s so absolutely full of himself to the point he’s just this bizarre Hollywood sick shit, you know, like, this guy, you know, I mean, he just absolutely believes he is as big and as amazing as these people treat him and they do. And what’s so interesting about that is he knows this person who knows this producer more closely and in fact has spent time with him at his home once a year for like thanksgiving or something and the guy this producer guy is the same at home and the people around him at home treat him the same way as the Hollywood sycophants all do so this guy’s life is like it’s as sick at home as it is elsewhere he’s so absolutely full of himself that, that, that, that no matter where he is he has to be sort of treated this way, and acts this way, this sense of, you know, this sense of, deserving, that he deserves all of this, I can’t think of the word there, but … and so, and so, and so I’m thinking about this and thinking god, how do you get like this? How can you possibly be that way? And so I’m thinking about it and I was struck by a really weird thought that so if you took this guy and everything he’s created, like everything he’s created – all the tv shows and all the movies and everything he’s done and everything he’s created and you just could somehow just erase it from history or just pluck it out and throw it away as if it never existed, and what struck me about that is that the world would not be any worse off – at all – like not at all, like nothing would be affected in the world some other movies or tv shows or whatever would fill in there and if we did not know what we’d seen, even if we enjoyed one of his movies or whatever greatly, even if we knew that, but if we didn’t know and it wasn’t created, it would have zero effect on the world. Like none whatsoever! But if you think about this if you took one teacher out, or one nurse out, and what they’ve done in the world, you know, it would have a very profound effect on the people who, who learned from them – or they cared for or whatever, you know, it would be a hugely profound effect, and it’s the same like with our sports stars, I mean, we pay these guys like millions of dollars to like run down the field, or like slap a puck really hard , or kick a ball or do whatever it is, you know, but if you take anyone of these billionaire, millionaire, I guess, sports stars out and the world would be none the worse at all – like, not at all. Nothing would be affected. Zero. Zilch. It’s like we pay the most money, in a lot of cases, it’s now always true, but in a lot of cases, to the people whose effects, true effects on the world and our lives is the least, I mean, think about that, we pay the most money to the people whose effects on the world, truly profound and meaningful effects on the world, are the least, that blows my mind. That just blows my mind.
So I’m thinking more about this and realizing there are really two types of jobs. Those that on some light level affect the world and those that affect it immediately and profoundly and forever. I’m of the former. I work in marketing and while it’s important for me and my clients, if everything I’ve ever done was suddenly erased, not a whole lot would change. But if my brother would similarly disappear, all of the work he’s done to help people’s vision would also disappear. The Target CEO, not much. The Target employee who helped me find the very important gift I was looking for, yep. Entertainers, absolutely not. Plumbers, yes.
This isn’t very well thought out, but am I serious about it? Yes, I am.
Back in 2003, as our elected officials were all cheerleading our invasion of Iraq, it seemed so blatantly obvious to all of us that if we did, eventually the civil war that is happening right now would certainly come to pass and it blew our minds that they didn’t see that. Not a one of the regular folks I talked with believed Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” and lo and behold we were right. Not one of us believed we could bomb the country of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds into some sort of submission without creating a huge power vacuum that would be filled with the same terrorists and radicals we purported to be fighting against, and lo and behold we were right again.
None of us liked Saddam Hussein, and Saddam Hussein, no doubt, ran the place with a hot iron fist, but he was also obviously in no position post-Kuwait to be any real threat to the region, let alone the United States. In addition, he hated Al Qaeda, or religious zealots of any kind (he seemed to believe that there should be no god before him), and would not tolerate anyone who would threaten the stability of his country, for that matter. Remove him and they will move in, we said, which they did.
One passing glance at the history of the entire Middle East and one should have been able to suss out that our bombs and “nation building” would not lead to some sort of shiny democracy a la the United States. It staggers the imagination to believe that they believed it themselves. These were not stupid people so the real question is why did we really invade Iraq? The oil? Payback for W’s dad’s war? Anger that we didn’t take him out then and there? Or maybe this Sunnis kill Shiites and vice versa over and over is exactly what they wanted. Who knows? They know, but no one is about to tell us.
My dad’s obit appeared today in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Saint Paul Pioneer Press and the Sioux City Journal and will also appear in the Lake County Chronicle on Thursday. What does that mean? Our little final story will hit three papers near to where he’s most recently lived and soon one where he really recently lived.
I’ve read the obituaries every Sunday for the last 25 years of my life. Since I was 25, I guess. I don’t know what got me into that habit, but the habit I got. It’s become a ritual for me because I find myself wanting to know who’s dying. And more than that, and here’s how most obituaries so fail, why. I was certain to mention what ailed my father before he died because I think it’s terribly important. An obituary without a cause of death is just a greeting card. With a cause of death, it’s a statement of fact.
We, the living, need to see what’s killing the rest of us – no matter how awful or what we think wrongly is embarrassing. It’s the truth that we need to recognize together. There’s no shame. Suicide or aneurysm or cancer or car accident. The truth of the matter is what matters. It’s what will touch us to be aware of what is killing the rest of us. Lewy Body Dementia isn’t pretty, but I’ve now heard from others that have loved ones that suffer similarly. That’s good. Because they find solace in the diagnosis, reason and love. And shared experience.
When I read those that do tell the whole truth, I feel alive. When I read those that don’t, I’m not sure exactly how to feel. Yes, I revel in a life well lived, but beyond that it’s what behind door number one. You guess. But you could never possibly figure it out.
Death by any means is noble – whether it is an old woman dying in her sleep at 95 surrounded by family or a young person suffering from mental illness who commits suicide. It’s entirely equal and important. Obituaries need to spell it out and allow us to respond as human beings. Even a suicide bomber. We should know that, see who they were and who loved them, and we’ll be that much closer to knowing what causes something so hideous, and maybe be there to affect such a decision in the future.
But that is extreme. What about the rest of us and all the diseases and accidents that take us out of this life? The more we know, the more we can understand and be prepared and aware. Cancer, stroke, old age, [insert that which killed your loved one here] – let the people know. Let them know what took this great person’s life so they, the rest of us, can be aware with the ones we love.
We hear statistics, trends, numbers, chances, but they’re just that. Not human beings, but numbers. Give the body a reason. Give the people a chance to understand and maybe respond. All death is noble, if we take the time to understand why. Life is what we’re living, death is not just a concept, it’s more true than you can ever be yet. Tell it like it is. Let that be your favor to the future.
There but for the grace of God go I. Lewy Body Dementia. Look it up if you’re looking for yet another chink in the armor of this loving God of grace. Or if you’re more modern, explain to me why evolution would evolve such a thing. It’s a cocktail, not to be enjoyed surely, but jammed down the throats of the unsuspecting; a mix of Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease with a double-shot of hallucinations tossed in for good measure. Shaken. Stirred. Scared. To death.
“Dad, are you all right?”
Eyes of terror, hands shaking, trembling in the middle of the familiar family room.
“Can I get you anything?”
“Yeah, a casket.”
It’s one of the sickest parts of the sickness, this in and out of reality, with little of the blissful ignorance that can accompany some forms of dementia. Just confusion, then awareness, then terror, then anger, then anxiety, then awareness, then frustration, then and again and again and again.
The hallucinations started out fascinating, even funny. “Do you see that garden party over on the Johnson’s lawn?”
“Do you see the couple standing on the rocks down by the lake?”
“Well, then, what about their dog?”
They got less funny over time. Long, complex hallucinations he recounted later. The three women who put him in a car and took him across the country, stopping at gas stations, not letting him out of the back seat. The same three women who would show up unexpectedly in the house. “I don’t know how they get in here.” Then maybe funny: “But damn they work hard around here. Never seen anything like it.”
He’s moving into memory care now and if anyone’s memory needs some care, it’s his. It’s the sickest thing I’ve ever seen, this Lewy Body business. Reduce a once proud, hyper-intelligent, orthopedic surgeon, to a trembling, mumbling “resident” (read “patient”).
There are moments of transcendence, fewer and farther between these days, but, still, and occasionally.
I love my dad. I hate this fucking disease.