The intense debates over health-care reform have brought to mind some poignant memories. When my father was in his early 40s he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Our entire family was shaken, but perhaps no one more than Granddad and Grandma Clapp. Moving into their elderly years, they had to watch a son die.
Halfway through Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, about the time I should have been engrossed in the tommy-guns-a-blazin’ battle between bad guy John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and good guy Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), I found myself staring at the beautiful overcoat Dillinger was wearing, the hip sunglasses he had on and the way Purvis’s stylish hat was nattily cocked upon his head.
Mine is reasonably small having always lived low, turned off lights and faucets, eschewed useless stuff, reused, recycled. I do not aspire to shrink it, but, like the first people in these green hills,
I want to leave no footprint at all, to move through life in gentle, charitable silence not disturbing fragile things, cosmic balances or the universal pulse so that, when my candle sputters into darkness, the tiniest leaf is unmoved by the wisp of its rising smoke.
Why does the moon seem so intent to cry, and yet it is your tears that give us dew? Why do the flags grasp silently at wind? Why does the sun refuse to let me stare, and yet it is your hand upon my face that burns? Why does my mother die without remembering my name, while she still sings in church? Why does the IV bag float like my prayer does in this emptiness? Where was it that I lost my way? Why do I see the cross in window panes, in two downed branches broken in the road, in shirts hung out to dry? Why does the mystery of faith sustain us when we keep on asking such questions? Why must we ask such questions?
Danielle Snyderman, a geriatrician, says it isn’t possible to work successfully with an elderly patient without knowing about that person’s relationship with his or her spouse. This awareness led her to start collecting stories about the love lives of the couples she was working with. These stories are “packed with humor, history, wisdom, and grace. Who wouldn’t feel better after bearing witness to love that has weathered child-rearing, war, poverty, financial success, and physical decline?” Couples have difficulty addressing one question: “How do you anticipate a time without each other?” (Philadelphia Inquirer, June 14).