Memento mori


I’m sitting here watching Saving Private Ryan and I notice Captain Miller’s compass during the scene where they come across the airborne soldier and all of the wounded that have gathered around and they’ve just gotten a positive ID on where James Ryan is so they sit down to look at the map. I think my compass is from my dad. Maybe it was from when he was in the military, I wonder. Then I wonder where it is and what significance it has to me. I used to be fascinated by it when I was little. Not only did it possess the mysterious ways of the magnet, it folded in three and had a wire that went through a small cut out rectangle. Man’s clever devices and inventions. I wondered who was lucky enough to had gotten the patent on the design and win a government military contract.

“We’ll take four billion of those young man!” booms some general in a very important office somewhere. The Pentagon probably.

What will happen to all these little things when I die? This will have no meaning to my children, I imagine. Or maybe some of them will wonder what any of it meant to me. I think my boys appreciate nostalgia – and my older boy will probably appreciate any military sentiments like the flag and dog tags. I think about my parents’ old cameras I used to use. My dad’s mostly. I brought it to photography class with me. It was a big old 35 mm camera. My mom’s was small, silver and a little less robust. Both are circa 1950’s. I wonder where are those. I think my younger son will appreciate those and my vinyl records.

My mom never really had much character. She was just kind of afraid of everything and everything was going to kill me.

“Watch out for cars, they’re going to kill you!”

“Those bus drivers drive like maniacs, they’re going to kill you!”

“Don’t go to the city, it’s dangerous and it’s going to kill you!”

Ironically, if we stay inside and eat Chef Boyardee and drink Kool-Aid or Folgers we will be safe.

All this from a woman who never rode a bike (it’ll kill you), never swam (she’ll sink straight to the bottom “Like a stone!”) and didn’t really read or run or roller skate or have any hobbies. Well, hobbies she wanted to share, I guess. She made beautiful works with her sewing machine. She was a perfectionist which is probably why she didn’t want to teach me anything, and she knitted. She cooked every day, so, finally, I would get to be involved with something even if it was just licking the mixing beaters.

So, I guess that was her character.

Its nice to remember her laughing with her friends and having a good time. It makes me quite sad to think about actually, her fullness of life, since today she is so very frail. My whole life we would visit my parents’ friends. We’d go to “Kate’s” house (ten years younger) and “Fred and Margie’s” house (same age) and her friend Rose (ten years older) would get a visit every now and then, come by or – when she got too old – she’d just call… every night … after she’d had a few glasses of Jack and Coke as that was her drink.

“Why do you talk to her?!” I’d ask. “She just tells you the same story over and over again and she’s plastered by the time she calls.”

“I know I know, but she’s lonely,” my mom would say. Mom was never a drinker.

Every night, Rose would call.

We never got any call saying Rose had passed. If she hasn’t, she must be a hundred by now and probably still enjoying that Jack and Coke where ever she is.

Mom’s been losing her mind for about twenty years now and twenty years is a long time to be losing your mind. I can distinctly remember when her best friend really just started loosing patience over the fact she’d repeat herself or be entertained by the same story over and over again every week. But, then being retired, nothing really new was happening in her life so I guess she really didn’t have anything new to say and she did like to be entertaining so she would ramble on and my aunt would roll her eyes and then finally one day I heard her say, “Emi, you told me that so many times already!” No patience and apparently no understanding about what was happening. Yet, I understood my aunt’s feeling. I guess I just wanted some help. But you cant give help when you need to help your own aging self and your own family. By that time, both of their eyes were starting to go and they were getting weary of long drives to each other’s houses. But they did used to have a great time together it seemed and for many years. Probably 40 or 45 years worth or more. That’s a lot of time. Where did the time go?

The things is, we never do know where the time goes. And, as I get older I notice people dying around me. I see some parents out living their grown children sometimes – and not from any wrong doing. It doesn’t really matter if you’re an accountant or a motocross rider. There is really no safety from death.

Today is the first day of the last month of the year. I see people contemplating the past year and what the next year will hold. I hear people deliberating about recent current events or redefining to each other what it is to “really live”. Doesn’t really matter, does it? How to live. If you’re alive, you’re living. And if you’re living, you’re experiencing all sorts of emotional highs and lows. And so then, I guess it doesn’t really matter what happens to my stuff after I die. Some things I’ve had all my life like the little compass or a creepy eyed doll and some things I’ve had only as an adult but was life changing. That Cervelo, it really is art, you know, art with wheels. You could just hang it on the wall and it radiates a warm feeling of speed and potential. Then I guess some of my favorite things in life are alive too, and they will pass on with me or before me or after me. You never really know, do you?

There is no summation, no answer and no tidy conclusion. The winter months are here and mortality is on my mind. I watch my mother’s fading life and think about how I want to live my last days or how other’s have lived their last days. I think about Hunter S. Thompson blowing his brains out. I think about Jack Kerouac and his liver cirrhosis at 47. I think about meeting Lawrence Ferlinghetti and how wise he was to preserve his health and his mind into old age regardless of all those beat poet habits. I think about my daughter and her memories of me as well as my sons’.… In the end, to be forgotten like one in a million…. “a needle in a stack of needles” … So, was it worth it? Captain Miller, Did I earn it? Only God knows. (And who is God? God is me. God is you.)

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