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Here, There, Everywhere, Nowhere

Maybe it wasn’t the lure of adventure motivating my decision to sell the condo. Remember my telling you that when someone asks where I want to live, I say, “Nowhere.” I’ve been examining the simplicity (or complexity) of that response.

For weeks, Wallace Stevens’s luscious poem, “Sunday Morning”, has streamed my consciousness. Here’s the first stanza:

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe …

I treasure the vitality bursting from those lines, the words that summon lavish images, images assembled to disperse the intrusion of religious ritualism. Now, the second stanza:

Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?

The thought of heaven: I give it no consideration—at least not supernaturally. And my bounty? What is it if not the physical world, “comforts of the sun”, “beauty of the earth”? And my heart, a smile, laughter, tears, these fingertips that dance the keyboard? Like the peignoir’d woman, I question generosity to an unfathomable god—and from.

I have said that music must be transcendent. Madama Butterfly is, and is divine. I’ve lamented the possible obsolescence of classical music only to feel exhilarated when I hear that its splendor is among the pieces included in the soundtrack of some wildly popular movie all the teenagers and young adults are queuing up to see.

A few days ago, I sat in a clinic while my friend had a pre-op examination. And I observed, focusing on the elderly, all the elderly, with their necessities for mobility: cane, or walker, or wheelchair. I watched as a tall woman, perhaps in her fifties, held the arm of her decrepit mother. “Sit here, Mom, I’ll be right back,” she said.

How many years until I’m that person, the one needing assistance? The one whose knees, knuckles, elbows, ankles grind, bone against bone? Graceless. The one looking helplessly at her adult child who has left his job or family to “take Mother to her appointment?” How many years?

And then, more questions: What happens to people whose children live far away or those without children? Who helps?

Later, my friend said, “They have to pay someone.”

“What about those who can’t afford to pay?”

I imagine sitting at the dining table, among my children, their wives, my grandson, the grandchildren I might have in another 10 years. What if I’m no longer fun? I’m laughing as I write, because I can hear sons J and H, “You’re not fun now.” I am—but one day I won’t be. If I’m a burden.

Then, another scene: I’m an old woman who speaks only with efficiency. There are no wasted words among the adages I utter, such as: “Necessity is the mother of invention”. Except each linguistic nougat would be an original. For example: Perverse is the woman who squanders her own pleasure. My loved ones would gather in anticipation of the next aphorism. Yet I’d be a burden, still.

Back to “Sunday Morning” whose essence is an acknowledgment that we can experience beauty, love for a person, and love of some thing, only if we also understand their transience, that their loss is looming. It is death that gives life meaning. My husband Charles said this to me when he was ill.

Recently, I attended a Death With Dignity forum. The panelists represented both sides of the issue. I was there not because I need clarity. I know what I want. Have told the boys, their wives, Laura and Erma, friends, and acquaintances.

I am here, there, everywhere, nowhere. And I believe it is MY choice, and an obligation, to determine the date and time of my death. If there’s a pre-event party, you’re invited.

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Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

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