My wife is sick today. She had a really bad asthma attack last night. When I heard her lungs clicking together trying to find breath like a lost animal, I could just scream. I feel like a child when I’m confronted with health problems. My neighbors have a tendency of smoking indoors, even though this is a nonsmoking residence. We share the same ventilation system and the furnace fan will pick up the smoke and shoot it over to our side of the house like a radioactive cloud bowing over a wasteland. After appearing at my neighbors door crazed and swearing like a cannibal ready to pounce at 4 am, I’m hoping this is the end of smoking inside.
When you get older, and your mortality appears like a barely visible expiration date on a milk jug, you can’t help but feel more powerless to sickness than before. Having watched my grandmother die, and having taken her off the galaxy of machines trapping her soul to her body like a gear prison, you learn that our existence is beyond finite. Having put my dog down, and watching her body tremble and shutter against a sea of poison widening through her veins, then just sit there silent like she was some sort of puppet or toy, broken and bowed, well, you realize the fragility of life and medical treatment.
In those last moments of pain and release, the cells in both of their bodies fought death on a molecular level. My dog, shaking with lost life, like she wanted to claw back into the physical world. My grandmother, who’s brain had been melted by blood and concussion, sat up without her breathing tube, trying to gasp for the very same oxygen she’d screamed against coming into this world.
Life is just a few moments away from death.
We’re animals, meant to reproduce and expand our life to keep the genetic chain going. Death reminds us that besides our higher cognitive thinking, we’re meat, bone, sinew, blood, and bile. We’re organisms underneath someone else’s microscope. A colony of resilient fungus lost in some distant swirl of the galaxy.
Growing up there were many times I would be envious of characters in video games for their powers. None more so than the typical sorcerer or mage character with the cure spell. In Final Fantasy VI everyone could learn the cure spell, and there were higher versions of it the more life you accrued through the quest experience. It looked so simple against that pixel backdrop of sandcastles and phantom forests. You spin twice in battle, a crossbeam of jade light splits the air like a round thunderbolt, and health, life, and hit points rise up from everyone’s feet like blessings hidden beneath the earth.
There were no needles, IVs, medicines, radiation, scanners, respirators, or tubes. Just a simple spin and life would appear from some mystic source.
Some faraway Japanese game designer had watched death before, and made the cure as simple as the hope, that maybe you wont ever have to experience the fragmentation of the body that takes place while trying to stop oblivion.
I understand that hope. Share it. Though it’s in those moments of watching the border between life and death fade to a thinness that rivals a sheet of the bible, that people are at their best. As long we learn to respect life as a whole species, perhaps we can take comfort in the finality of death.