WRITTEN ON 08/13/2020
Months into the collapse of life-as-I’ve-known-it, living in nearly complete and uninterrupted solitude, I sit at my desk and ponder writer’s block. This is my biggest problem? In the face of everything else, I’m worried about my writers’ block?
It is to laugh.
Against all odds, I exist. I’m here. My ship is stalled in a calm on a lonely sea, with everything on hold, and no end in sight short of death, but I’m here. It’s a miracle, no?
This morning I ate breakfast. And I enjoyed it, too: fruit salad, yogurt, bread and butter. It was very satisfying. And I take pride in my healthy choices. That’s both wonderful and pathetic. I do what I must to survive.
More than ever, I’m aware of my existential angst, unencumbered by the imposition of daily routines.
Life is a locked room into which we are dropped and handed a death sentence from which there is no possibility of reprieve. And we spend what energy we have trying, in spite of ourselves, to attain immortality. At best, we achieve moments in which we forget our predicament. And, sometimes, it is possible to look up at the ceiling and catch, through what has been called “a crack in the cosmic egg” a glimpse of something beyond the box. Something to hope for. That, perhaps, is human life’s greatest achievement, in the end.
Something to hope for.
In his gruesome final days, my husband was paralyzed and without speech, although his mind and emotions were active and engaged.
One day in February, he was walking about (albeit with some difficulty), reading books, talking about current events, engaged with others. A month or so later, he looked up with a grimace and said, “That’s funny, I can’t….” Then he collapsed to the floor. His eyes wild, staring into space, beyond us, never to fully return, and his dying took two months from the day, almost from the moment. During that time, as he lay paralyzed, unable to speak, unable to sit up, wipe his ass, or read a book, I reminded him that he often used to say: “I’m a hermit by nature. I only want to live alone in a cave.”
I then remarked, “Some cave you’re in.” Unbelievably, he laughed. All he had left was his wry humor, so he spread it around. What did he hope for? Something, I suppose, because he did feed himself, and he did try to communicate. On the day before he passed, we sat on the backyard patio of the grim little board & care residence where he spent his days dying, he in his wheelchair, me on a lounger. He looked over my shoulder into the yard and suddenly raised his one good arm and pointed. I turned to look. He had spotted a cat.
“The cat?” I asked, turning back. He nodded. He had seen the cat. He had acknowledged the cat. He had shared the cat. Life in a nutshell.
There’s a famous comic monologue in Tom Stoppard’s absurdist play, “Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” in which a character reflects on matters like this, beginning: “Do you ever think of yourself as actually dead? Lying in a box with a lid on it?” As the monologue moves towards its conclusion, he continues, “It’d be just like being asleep in a box. . . . Life in a box is better than no life at all, I expect. You’d have a chance. You could lie there thinking, at least, I’m not dead!”
And that’s me, living alone in the era of COVID-19, surviving life in a box, clinging to what hope I can find: at least, I’m not dead.
I can’t end this column any more effectively than Stoppard ended his monologue:
“I wouldn’t think about it if I were you; you’d only get depressed.”
Don’t forget: always acknowledge the cats.