Monday, January 12, 2009

Jacques Brel Was a Liar

It's another gray winter day in Streeterville, 27 degrees and overcast at the Mini. A colleague of mine left work in the middle of the day today. His mother died this morning. My heart goes out to him.

The gentleman in question, we'll call him Bill for the sake of privacy, has been a bit depressed for a while as he is an only child and his elderly mother's health has been declining for some time. She has had Alzheimer's for some time and as the only child was set the task of seeing that she was taken care of. Every weekend became an adventure, as she slipped more and more away from any sense of time and reality.

The issue was complicated by the fact that his father had already passed away and now he was the last of his family, alone. Mind you, Bill has a wife and children, in-laws, and a healthy set of friends with whom he socializes regularly. His birth family, though, is gone. This is a terribly difficult rite of passage for any of us.

Who really wants to be alone? There may be some individuals out there who wish to remain alone, who could care less about human contact, and a sense of belonging. This is not true of the vast majority of humanity, however. We all long to belong, to be liked, to be loved. Family serves an incredibly important function. It gives us security. It keeps us sane. When the family unit we were born into disappears, it signals a crisis of identity. We are the sole identity of that group at that point in time and when that reality bursts into our consciousness, it's a tough one to handle.

I have been seriously alienated from my family for most of my adult life and as a result left home, family, and the state of my birth early on. I had very little contact with my family even before my parents died, but when both were gone, it was a bit unsettling. I have siblings, but they all live in different states and have families of their own and I found myself really alone. I have a wife, Babs, and we have carved out a lovely life together, but the reality of the matter is that certain aspects of life cannot be shared with one another. We are all, in essence, alone, trapped within the confines of our own minds, bodies, beings.

We are born alone. Sure your mother is there to comfort you, but it's a totally new and unique experience to be a body and mind outside the womb in a big, scary world. And now you have to feed yourself, instead of getting everything you needed through that cute little tube attached to your belly. We live our lives trying to fight off the aloneness, building bridges to other individuals, building families of our own to give us that sense of belonging and being wanted and needed. In the end, though, despite all of our best efforts, we die alone. No one can share that experience with you. Frankly, my experience in witnessing people in their last days, minutes, seconds suggests to me that a great many of them would rather all those guilty, needy, clamoring relatives and friends go away and leave them the hell alone.

In the end, someone very close to you can hold your hand and comfort you. That someone can try to make it easier for you, but you alone can face the coming darkness and whatever is on the other side. Some seek solace in religion and belief that there is an afterlife. Some of us with a rational bent to our thought find the
possibility of gods and afterlives a bit far-fetched. I only wish it were that easy. It would take a great deal of responsibility off of my shoulders. Ultimately, there is only the darkness, the nothingness to face, and you are the only one who can face it.

I think about Dylan Thomas and his "Rage, rage against the dying of the light," and I fully intend to do so. Where this line of thought has taken me, as it ultimately must, is to the realization that when we face being alone because of the death of loved ones, it brings us to face the reality of our own ultimate demise. It's funny that thinking about this brings to mind Dylan Thomas, but it also brings to mind Kenny Rogers, who had at least one profound moment in his career with a line from The Gambler. "The best that you can hope for, is to die in your sleep."

So Bill, our thoughts are with you, even if it means very little. You still have to face it alone. Of course, in a circuitous manner, this brings us to the title. Jacques Brel wrote a song called, No Love You're Not Alone It's unfortunate, but he was wrong.

1 comment:

  1. Brel also wrote another very emotional song, 'Alone' (Seul, en Francais)which may fit your suppositions more accurately.