Cold Brains

The idea has crept into my mind that time wears at a person until the point comes when they’re ready for it to be over—they want it to end. Or don’t care if it ends. I also have the idea—true or not, I don’t know—that at a certain point the body fails in a manner that brings one to a natural approach to death’s threshold—food loses its taste, colors and feelings aren’t vivid, surroundings lose their appeal and enticements, etc. And maybe we don’t have a lot of information about this stage because the interest in making a firsthand report on it is naturally utterly lacking. The slough of the undone, the slag pressed in the cracks of the accomplished, the half-formed thoughts—it all falls away like mud down a slide, a song written for Johnny Cash that he’ll never sing—c’est la vie.

Before one gets to that point (but how far?) is the mind-numbing weariness of one’s internal repetitions: the thoughts that won’t go away, the memories that keep returning, the same reactions to the same situations, etc. Beckett evoked much of this in his later work. By the end the self has had enough of itself. The will or the physiological means is lacking to make another effort to repeat the same old round. It’s over.

Even the absurd loses its taste. For a long time I could not understand why a specific childhood memory kept coming back to me in the midst of work. I was at a friend’s house and we decided to hop on bikes. He gave me his brother’s bike which I had never ridden before. It was dark, we were at the base of a gravelly hill. The bike was in a higher gear. I struggled to get it going. In the darkness the bicycle light flapped back and forth like a flashlight searching for a clue and my friend laughed at me. Why should this memory come to me again and again at work? And then it occurred to me. It was so obvious. I knew the work—that is my body knew the work as well as riding a bike. But the conditions of the work environment always push it into awkwardness and discomfort. I thought, Good! Now that I understand the memory it won’t come back again. But it did and it does—now because I associate it with the moment of figuring out its secret. Next time it comes back it will no doubt accompany an image of myself sitting down to write and the triad will spin in the bicycle wheels that turn behind my eyes. Because my eyes can’t role at themselves, only over themselves and so I can’t just say, Oh brother! and move on.

One doesn’t move on. One keeps coming back. Back to absurdity. Nothing clever or funny about it. Just dumb absurdity. Until the brains turn cold.

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7 Responses to Cold Brains

  1. grapeling says:

    yes. back to the cold ~

  2. Susan Scheid says:

    This post resonates particularly with me because of a longtime friend who is dying, and, as the walls closed in, made the decision to stop trying to stay alive. She is at the stage now where she has shut down in all the ways you describe, not eating, not drinking, only dimly aware, if at all, of her surroundings. It’s hard to know what lessons this offers to those of us not yet at that stage—all the nostrums about living life to the fullest don’t assist. Your formulation, about internal repetitions, has a lot more to say about the reality of the human condition. We go on, until we don’t.

    • Sue, I’m very sorry to hear about your friend. From our point of view this is only awful. It is my hope and wish that from hers it feels like the right thing to do and she’s simply leaving it all behind like so much baggage she won’t need where she is going.

      I almost lost my wife last year and these next few years are the most precarious–when they say she has the highest risk of recurrence. So, inevitably I’ve been thinking about mortality and about limits in general. I don’t want to “rage” at the dying light (or night?–was that Dylan Thomas?) I want to be ready when the time comes. I want it to feel like it’s the right time. I hope that this is possible, and natural, for me and mine and for your friend and you as well.

      • Susan Scheid says:

        Your response is, and no surprise to me, thoughtful and intelligent. What I want for you and your wonderful wife and soul mate is to get past this precarious period and have many, many years together ahead.

        Our friend died two days ago. While it’s of course impossible to know for sure, it seems to me she made a good decision for herself. That doesn’t mean it was easy, but the choice she made seemed to be made with a clear understanding of the options, and a resolve that the one she chose was the only one that made sense. The one thing I sensed she would have wished for is not to to linger, as it made no sense. In places where assisted dying is possible, I suspect she would have chosen it, and it would have been a wholly rational choice.

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