In my lofty
experience, there are two events for which everything else stops: birth and
death. My daughter, in utero when I was a magazine editor, ripened two weeks
ahead of schedule. My tidy plan was to oversee final layout of the spring
issue, guide it through printing and make a neat departure on maternity leave
at the end of a publication cycle.
Not so. In between
contractions I managed to approve the layout, and that was all. My beautiful
early bird slid into the world a few hours later and for the next few weeks I
concerned myself with little more than tending to her. How my maternity
replacement got hired and wended her way through the work on my desk, I don’t
About a month ago
I was called to the emergency of Mount Sinai hospital in the small hours after
midnight. My aunt, an independent woman in her seventies, had fallen, hit her
head and, as the C.T. scan revealed, had a serious, possibly fatal injury in
her brain. Once again every obligation and distraction in my life was swept
aside, this time for the monitoring, care, and (too quickly) the bedside vigil
of someone at the final exit of her life.
Events like these
reduce us to the basic elements of life, to its beginning and ending, to the
reminder that life has a beginning and ending. Those of us in the middle
passage easily forget this reality, especially in our busy, distracted,
achievement oriented culture.
Our daily lives
are consumed by pursuits and distractions whose significance is swiftly lost in
the face of an intervening life event. This doesn’t mean that all these
pursuits are shallow, but I marvel at how easily the anxiety over things like
being on time or showing up at all, meeting a deadline, landing a deal, getting
a date, wearing the right clothes, pursuing an ambition, being out of the
closet, pleasing your mother, appeasing your lover, etc, is entirely supplanted
by the small necessity to hold someone’s hand and be human.
As almost anyone
will say after the loss of someone close, I didn’t spend enough time with my
aunt before she died. Except right before she died – all night and all day when
I wasn’t getting some rest myself. But with the creeping debility, awkward
oxygen mask and interventions of nurses and doctors, it wasn’t the time to be
niece and aunt together. And now I have no more time at all.
between people, other than those that are sexual, are not frequently what we
give our time and attention to. If television is any indication, we pride
ourselves on the speed of our cars, the height of our buildings, the trend of
our appearance, the comfort of our living spaces, the sophistication of our
technology. Where (except in the sales pitches of Bell Canada) are the
exhortations to honour and engage with others in our lives? And yet, when the
sharp edge of life is facing us, either its new beginning or finite end, what
else can hold significance?
The gay community
has certainly had its share of losses, reminders that life is a temporary,
fleeting phenomenon. But how different would our culture, and our individual
lives, be if we could keep this foremost in our minds? We wouldn’t stop doing
everything we do, of course. Life in between birth and death has to have
meaning and the things we do with our time is how we make sense out of being
But there might be
less of a rush. There might be more warm Good-Mornings and less dash to the
office. There might be more parks and less concrete. There might be more
laughter and more stories. There might be more walks and less fitness. There
might be more hand-holding and a lot more humanity.
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