Lately I've been thinking about survival. Maybe it's the tsunami, maybe it's the two out of three cats we have suddenly developing cancer, maybe it's my father going in and out of hospital with pneumonias and maybe lung cancer. My sweetheart cries almost daily for the ones who are sick or who have died.
But what is this "survival" thing? Why did those mothers survive after watching their babies being swept out to sea? Why did Larry drop dead in my house rather than on the plane or at his home? How come I seem to be surrounded by so much death lately? I started wondering if maybe I'm in some kind of battle with Trickster, like Job before me. Maybe it's a bet. Bottom line is, I seem to survive when others do not.
In some cultures the survivor does not speak the name of the dead in order to assure that they make it to the afterlife and are not bound to the earth. In Gnostic teachings Yahweh is criticized because He has trapped souls in mortal forms. Dying there is a release, so surviving is remaining trapped in a mortal form. There we suffer pain, sickness and grief. Truth be told, every dead guy with whom I have chatted seems pretty darn happy, so I am inclined towards the Gnosis viewpoint.
But as the cats wane, dad declines and my son gets no better, I wonder how I have managed to do so many terrible, deadly things and still walk about, albeit in a lot of pain but still alive. I drove cars through the night country, drunk and blinded by drink with a six pack between my legs and one eye open I bouced out of ditches, dodged cats and foxes and ran stop signs. I've eaten enough illicit drugs to choke a psychedelic horse. Then there's the barrels of guns I have stared down while some jerk suggested the various ways they might make me suffer before shooting me in the head. Still I survived and many of them are dead.
But, I did not shoot drugs, so no hep C. I did not take heroin or crack cocaine, not a hell of a lot of meth, although probably enough to kill your average guy. The alcohol deaths I skipped are plentiful and the various strange ladies I slept with yet did not end up with AIDS...
Why me? As a punishment Life seems about right. You get to love and lose, try and fail, sacrifice and still end up short. Your friends die in accidents and from heart failure. Eventually even your sweetheart could let go. I can tell you it's not easy to lose your kids even if it takes years for them to finally step away behind the veil.
I think it's punishment, or extending the joke. Maybe it's trying to solve a puzzle which can be approached only by living. That would be great! But I need to know the puzzle. I mean, if it's a maze I just keep a wall on my right side. If it's a word game I need a good dictionary. If it's a complex puzzle I need to take notes. If it's a joke.... I don't get it. But here I am, aching and whining about the pains, limping down the hall to take my meds, phoning doctors and accupuncturists in an effort to get some relief that doesn't involve poisoning the liver. I even bought swim trunks so I can walk around inside the pool at the Y. I'll try just about anything.
So how long will I survive? Suppose in fifty years I'm still hanging tough, still in pain, still lonely for lost friends and still taking in cats, just to lose them in 15 years or so? That would suck. Then we'd know it was a sick joke. If someone like Mother Theresa dies before her work is done, if Issac Asimov dies without writing his best book that he's had in his head for decades... why am I still writing? How come the universe kept me around when it took those others?
The worse part is surviving your children. So far. That's just wrong. My boy should be bringing his kids over for me to watch while he goes to work, or better yet, on a holiday with his sweetheart. Well, maybe my daughter will do that for me. I'd like to see a grandchild. Maybe that's why I'm still here. Maybe it's because I still haven't bounced a grandchild on my knee. I have acquired a few godchildren and that's pretty cool, although it would be even more fun if they really thought of me as a Fairy Godfather. I could teach them about spirit walks, about rituals and psychic armor. But I have to be patient.
When I was young and getting lots of shots because of my allergies and asthma the nurses would complain that the thin needles couldn't penetrate my skin. It took 2 or 3 times to get the injection. Not a lot of fun for a six year old. But maybe that's a clue. Maybe I'm so damned tough that each time my time was up I was so tough I didn't get the message. Maybe the bullets bounced off. Like that Bruce Willis character in Unbreakable I can be pushed around but not killed. I'm not sure I'd like that.
On the other hand, survivors in some cultures are free to wail out the name of the dead and so we get stiring videos of fathers and mothers in Sri Lanka crying for their babies lost. WE hear sisters weeping for their brothers, snatched from in front of their faces, lost to the waves. Time like a wave breaks over us all. Surviving is not a sign of immortality, it's just an indication that we have more to go through, good and bad. We aren't done yet.
When I think about the things I want to make with my old beat up hands: the sauna, the statues and boxes and furniture. When I think about the poems and novels I'd like to get out so they'd stop bouncing around inside my head, I understand why I'm a survivor. To be dead and unfinished would be a real downer. I'd have to try spirit writing or channeling and that would be a drag. On the other hand, it might be fun making some construction worker wander over to the house and take a couple of weekends to finish up my sauna. But I'd never be able to use it!
No, I think surviving may be a good thing. So long as I remember the names of those who passed before me, their voices, their artwork and words.... as long as I carry them in my heart I suppose I'm surviving for them all.