Monday, March 22, 2004

Mum Dying

the human death experience is so mystical.

my brother called this morning to tell me that mum had been going downhill noticeably in the last few days, very weak and complaining of pain underneath her rib cage. tim said he had had her taken by ambulance to the hospital.

my mother always talked with me about things, like her own doubts about god for example, not a popular opinion in the family. her own mother was very strict religiously. mum was closer to her father.

when i went up for her bladder cancer surgery last year i was sitting by her bed in the hospital. it was just the two of us and she told me that for many years she had had a dream where she was on the edge of a field waist-high in weeds, and her father, who died in 1959 was at the far end of the same field. she told me that in her dream her dad said, "c'mon, honey. c'mon, dear," and beckoned with his hands. she was frightened in her dream and said "no, daddy i can't." she said her father turned away "with the saddest look on his face." she told me she knew that if she had made contact with her father that she would die; he would have taken her with him. "so i know when it's my time, my dad will come for me, benjamin."

tim just called me again. they took an x-ray or ultrasound or something and mum's cancer has spread to her liver and it won't be long. we talked for awhile and at one point he said, "ben, you know what mum said to me this morning when she woke up? she said 'tim, you know my dad was here last night." tim asked what she meant and mum said "he came last night and was in the bed beside me."

-benjamin harris

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

"because it's there," said george mallory, explaining why he wanted to climb everest. never a completely satisfying answer for me. i would gladly risk (or would like to THINK i would gladly risk) my life to save another, kill another, find intelligent life on mars or television, for some "higher" purpose in other words. but "because it's there?" that's it?

just read an article on climbing k2 which is the world's most difficult and deadliest mountain. as the subtitle of the article put it, "(everest is for sissies)."

"[members of an unsuccessful 1939 group] were the die on k2. jordan [one of the author's fellow mountaineers] found some of wolfe's equipment--including a mitten with his name on it--plus 30 of his ribs and vertebrae."

upon finding a piece of purple cloth, jordan wondered who would wear such a thing, "a woman, it must be a piece of cloting worn by alison hargreaves," a gifted 33-year old brit who "was blown right off the summit ridge."

"we resumed walking passing sundry bits of gear...until we reached the arm of a wool shirt. the skin was like burned leather, dark brown, but not black. he hadn't been in the ice for long, because he still had his hands and his feet. well...a foot."

O-KAYYY..."because it's there," huh? have these people nothing better to do? i've always been struck by how these "brave exemplars of the human quest are the idle rich, like hillary and the "gifted" hargreaves.

i actually know someone who has climbed "sissie" everest. i remember him telling how it would take them an hour to transverse two vertical feet, at the end of which time he would be soaked through his clothing with perspiration.

claude fit the mold, an andover grad and schemer from rhode island who fled a bankrupt bentley dealership but not before creatively hiding a stash of loot and high-tailing it to florida and its generous homestead exemption, which has for seventy years attracted such as al capone and o.j. simpson and other judgment-proof a-type personalities. i doubt that any youngstown steelworker has ever climbed everest or k2.

effort is all to me. among other things, it's what makes me loathe the republican "work ethic" of being born on third base and holding yourself out as someone who has just hit a triple. i, and all democrats, are philosophical heirs of ben franklin who actually coined the phrase, "no gains without pain."

and we endure pain for the flimmsiest of gains. al of us who lift weights do so for no other reason than vanity. any other reason is pure pap. if you plopped old ben down in a modern american city, perhaps the most flummoxing sight--more so than cars and jets and cell phones--would be a gold's gym.

all of that i admit. but this extreme mountaineering stuff just seems to me the ultimate indulgence of a civilization, or the upper crust of such, whose raison d'etre is perverse.

i can't help but think that there's something a little similar between these westerners who have nothing to do and too much time to do it in and who choose to endanger their lives, and those mutant young saudi men, whose only way of gaining fulfillment was to fly a plane into a building, immolating themselves and others. it's the nihilist's disregard for human life.

-benjamin harris