Up to me came a salamander to be warmed by the sun. The wind was cool and I felt chilled, so I sat down and began to climb. When I returned to be warmed by the sun, along came a little black-and-white bird hopping closer and closer to me. He was hopping along the low-lying branches in the sweetly smelling chayote bush. How curious, I thought, how close he is, this black and white little bird. One more hop carries him to the ground and then the sound of pecking. He pecks and flips a something about like scratches in the sand. That something is–was–the salamander. Now, I hear in the chayote bush more pecking and pecking. On the ground, I see a tail twitching every five seconds while the pecking continues in the bush.
I am not satisfied with my understanding of the reasons we give when we are grieving. So I begin again, this time with an intimation.
We are speaking of our deaths.
‘Were I to die first, would you grieve for me?’ Aleksandra is speaking.
‘Yes,’ I reply.
For a while, I say nothing. Then I go on: ‘I would have to figure out why I was still living.’
1. Either death is something for us, or else it is nothing for us.
2. If death is something for us, then we can either go along with it, or we can resist it.
2.1. If we resist it, then we will be filled with strife and ultimately we will lose.
2.2. If we go along with it, then we and it must be one.
3. If death is nothing for us, then we and it have nothing in common.
3.1. Having nothing in common, we can be nothing for it, and it can do nothing to us.
Some old men resign themselves to death; others rock out, failing to convince. Philip Roth, age 79, has said that he plans to write no more books. Neil Young turned 67 this month and, to celebrate, reunited with “Crazy Horse” at Madison Square Garden last night. We were there for part of the evening.
In his review of last night’s performance, James Reed of The Boston Globe called it an “epic ride.” If it was, then it was epic in the older sense of the word. Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses returns, after 20 years of war and wandering, to Ithaca. He is old but is, he says, not fit to rule. Ruling does not run in his blood the way it does in his son’s. With his men, therefore, all old friends, he will strike off again to see whether death can be bent back or held off by a supreme act of will.
Neil is old Ulysses yet bordering on bathos. It’s strange to hear an old man–looking, my love said, like a “colicky baby”–sing in the key of bathos in a cracking building before an aging audience. The two classics–”Cinnamon Girl” and “The Needle and the Damage Done”–were softly song and it was these that showed heart. Yet it was the rest of the set that made me think of melodrama (young girls and broken dreams–that sort of thing), of boundless striving and never yielding (“Walk Like a Giant” power-chorded on for 23 unbearable minutes), of massive amps set against any good sense of an ending. The newer songs were filled with cliches, the lyrics undone by tiredness, but there was nevertheless something sorrowful about watching a man who, unlike Dylan, could still sing but who had nothing to sing about. Was it the dishonesty or the pretense that got to us?
Joan’s PET scan came back negative. The doctors don’t know what the spot on her lung is. Maybe just a scar.
Joan turned 89 the week before last. Today she said, “Eight-year-olds are such a marvel. They see and say so much.”
We drank champagne on her birthday and, with her two sons and also with the eldest son’s common law wife, talked about the best traps for catching rats and mice. Elizabeth, her Hungarian housekeeper who’s been coming twice monthly for three decades, came again on Tuesday. She is such a dear. “I spoke with my lawyer last week about changing my will. I’m leaving some things for her.”
In the back garden near the compost bin, Elizabeth tells me her thyroid is growing. Her father back in Hungary is a good man; he is frail. “You’re too young to know death.” My sad smile corrects her.
Joan’s heel is healing slowly and her cough, the one she’s had off and on since winter, is slowly going away.
Andrew Taggart, “When Lois Came to Stay”