Without a doubt, the most beautiful season: mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain.
Everything is delicate pinks, whites, greens; the carpenter bees and bluebirds and groundhogs and everything else are aggressively pursuing the recreation of themselves. Spirits cannot help but be lifted.
We eat dinner on the back deck most nights now, because we only get a handful of days like these, in which the temperature is perfect, the mosquitoes have not hatched, and the smell of the earth is sweet.
I haven’t had much to say lately. Instead, I am listening.
Quietly, I had a third stapedectomy for my thirty-fifth birthday. Given the heartbreak of the last two surgeries, I am very hesitant to declare victory, but I have small reason for hope. I can hear Guion playing guitar downstairs, which I could never hear before (even with my hearing aids). I can hear the baby monitor at the lowest volume. I can hear Moses whisper to me from the back seat.
It could all go away, as it has in the past, but I have been grateful for these past two weeks. My heart catches in my throat when I think about it failing again, so instead I try to think about everything else: the bees, the books on my nightstand, the boys.
I was going to write a screed about the vital importance of pursuing a countercultural approach to old age and death, but then I realized that no one wants another screed, and those screeds have already been written (by much smarter and more knowledgeable people than myself).
For five or six years, I’ve developed a subgenre interest in old age and death. I’m fascinated to no end about our end. Specifically, I’ve enjoyed reading about how American culture has negatively influenced health care and how we could, instead, choose to pursue a different way to die.
I won’t hold forth (unless you make the mistake of asking me about this at dinner) but instead share the best I’ve read on this topic.
Recommended reading on the end of life
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande
Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life, Louise Aronson
How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter, Sherwin B. Nuland
Knocking on Heaven’s Door: A Path to a Better Way of Death, Katy Butler
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, Caitlin Doughty
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, Siddhartha Mukherjee
Dr. Louise Aronson, a geriatrician and author of the very excellent book Elderhood, which I just finished, gets at the heart of the matter:
“In the twentieth century, American medicine became more interested in cosmetics and catastrophes than in promoting and preserving human health and well-being. In the twenty-first century, it worships machines, genes, neurons, hearts, and tumors, but cares little about sanity, walking, eating, frailty, or suffering. It values adults over the young and old, and hospitals and intensive care units over homes and clinics. It prioritizes treatment over prevention, parts over wholes, fixing over caring, averages over individuals, and the new over the proven.”
It might not be the most thrilling reading list you’ve seen lately, but I’ve felt radically reoriented toward aging and dying. Let me know if you’ve read any of these titles and if you recommend any others in a similar vein.
It’s amusing to me when people make a point of emphasizing that they rescued their cat. As if cats could be owned. As if cats ever even think of themselves as belonging to a human. If anything, it seems more accurate to say that the cat has deigned, has lowered himself, to live in their home, for a time, till whenever he sees fit. They are strange, ephemeral animals, belonging to everyone and no one.
Miss Nancy, our elderly neighbor, has a ferocious, semi-feral cat named Hunter. He’s aptly named, enormous and fierce. (He took a swipe at Walker on Easter and drew blood.) He preys on the baby birds and baby moles all over the neighborhood and is often seen starting fights with other house cats and spraying his scent on the oakleaf hydrangeas.
Every single night, we hear Miss Nancy calling for Hunter to come home. She sings out a high-pitched, country YIP-YIP! YIIIP-YIIIP! that echoes through the easement. I can only wonder if it works, if Hunter does indeed come running. Hunter is a free agent, the known assassin of the village. But Miss Nancy wants him home. What must it be like to desire an animal that does not desire you back? An animal who thirsts not for canned food but for blood?
Stay True, Hua Hsu
Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari
The Peregrine, J.A. Baker
Always enjoy your posts when they drop in my box. Spring along Lake Michigan isn’t quite as Springy as your pics, but they give me hope. At 72, death is something I think about a lot (in a curious companionable manner) and have read some of your listed books. Appreciate the others. I am suggesting you check out Thomas Lynch. He is a poet/essayist funeral director from a family of funeral directors. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/26/books/review/the-depositions-thomas-lynch.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare