Sunday, November 23, 2008

Election Night: How I said Goodbye to my Father

--- In, "Forrest A. Wright" wrote:
> I think life, even in the ideal world, must grieve. I think grieving> is an essence of eatings, drinkings and sexings.>
> Let us say good bye to the dead with tears but without damnation.
> Good bye old friend, mother, father or others. Rest in peace. Tears> and snots.> > Any words?

Hi Forest.

This is something which has been on my mind a lot these days because my father is dying. We don’t expect him to last out the month. I’ve mentioned it here before. He has been battling leukemia since February this year. He went through some hard chemo therapy which appeared successful, all the cancer cells were gone. Then he went in and out of a coma, and a few weeks ago the leukemia cells were back. The American health care system, second to none except Costa Rica and about 32 other countries according to WHO, told him to have a nice trip and that was that.

When I got the word I had to decide how to say good bye to him. He and I are both fierce Democrats and were excited about election night so I proposed to spend election night with him, as a final father and son thing we could do together. I arrived on Monday the 3rd.

In the evening my sister Anna and I dug out some photo albums left by my Uncle Tony. They had pictures of dad long before I was born. Images of him as a young man in the Navy, and National Guard, then as a teenager, then as a child, then as a baby. It had photos of my ancestors going back 5 generations, almost to the very invention of photography. We spent the evening before election night in the living room, my Dad tired but spirited, the leukemia blisters ravaging his face like ulcerous warts. I scribbled fast in a notebook I’d brought along for a short story I’m writing, as he went through each old picture explaining who it was and what the story was behind it. It was as if his life was flashing by him, but one black and white image at a time. They were incredibly sharp images, and in pristine condition. One image shows the shadow of his brother snapping the camera with the sun behind him. The shadow is hunched, looking down, the images 2 ¼ by 2 ¼ (“two and a quarters” in photographers terms) confirming that these were shot by an old Kodak ”Brownie” camera, the camera of the masses for generations. They were ghosts. Many of the people, even the children, were all dead. Their time, their generation had passed as Dad, the youngest of them, was beginning to pass away.

What a strange thing it must be to see the changing faces of yourself as a teenager with all the mystery of your future in front of you, and now to meet these ghosts with your grown son, knowing that death is finally coming down the road for you, to see it at the door and looking you in the eye, to know your fate, to have no doubt of it and to wonder what the answer to the next great mystery will turn out to be. What will it turn out to be; who finally got it right? The great religions? The mystics? The atheists? Heaven? Hell? Graduation? Reincarnation? Dumb oblivion?

At the end of the evening he went upstairs and came down with something I had requested he give to me. Some things can’t be taken. They have to be given. It was an antique in perfect working condition, which fifty years ago had been the jewel of his eye back in the day when I was too, when this thing and I were both brand new. It was an old professional camera, a German made Zeiss-Ikon twin lens reflex. When I was a little kid, Dad earned his living with this beautiful machine as a photo-journalist. For years I coveted it, even though no one made film for it anymore. It was the old samurai handing down his Katana sword. He passed it down to me. It was a pleasure to hold in my hands, the finger the dials, frame the image and to remember how it was when he was my Dad and I was his kid. It’s the way I want to remember him.

On election day we took it easy. Dad had voted by absentee ballot. We raked leaves and smoked a cigar together outside and talked politics. It was if the past had never happened. As we raked the leaves out front, friends drifted down the sidewalk on their way to the polls. They stopped or pulled over to chat with him as he introduced me. This was an upper middle class neighborhood such as I will never be able to live in, the neighborhood I might have had if I had chosen differently as a young man. Almost every front lawn, in an unbroken chain had a big blue Obama sign on it. I felt sorry for any Republicans in the neighborhood, they must have felt defensive. I looked at this stream of people, popping in to pay their respects and wondered what it would have been like to have been one of them. What a tribute to have so many friends come by to see you in your last days.

In the evening we went downstairs to the basement where the big TV was, and ate popcorn and drank beer and watched it all happen. My sister Anna, another sacrifice of my religious life, a person who grew up without ever knowing me, came in and hung out with us for awhile. I kept switching over to Fox News, which Dad hates, but I always find losers more interesting than winners. It was fun to hear the other side. We were tuned into Fox when it was announced that Obama would be the winner. You could see a noticeable sag in the announcer.In the morning it was time to leave. We parted in tears. I had failed to shed tears for my mom when she died, and when you’re seeing your parents for the last they deserve your tears, its your offering. My last offering to my Dad was my tears when I told him I wouldn’t see him again. It reminded me of the old days, saying goodbye to the old gods and the ghosts of what might have been.


Exosloar Planets, and the question of Good and Evil

(non-political!) Random thoughts: Exosolar planets and extraterrestrial life.

Someone recently posted about planets discovered outside our solar system and that it turns out Hubble has pictures of them. I went to NASA’s web site and after some difficulty found one of the pictures.It’s not much to look at. A red background with tiny white dots and some boxes pointing at the planet “fomalhaut”. I’m trying to imagine aliens stepping out of a flying saucer and saying ”Beep-beep. Greeting earthlings. We are from the planet Fomalhaut. Take us to your leader.”

You can see images of this tiny little white dot, such as it is at:

When you look at this unsexy dull little thing, you have to remind yourself of what a miracle you're seeing. What a privelege to live in a time when we can see the great dream of science fiction, an alien world. A real one.

Eastern polytheistic religions have a way of explaining good and evil by assigning the roles to different gods. The most familiar is Hinduism with Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the creator, sustainer and destroyers respectively. But all the gods in that trinity are regarded as being essential. Without Shiva, Brahma doesn’t have new ground for creating new things. Without the asteroid of Shiva destroying the dinosaurs there would never have been the rise of mammals and homo sapiens, the clever ape that worships. It brings two things to mind.The big mystery with the search for intelligent (technological) life in the Universe is that we haven’t found any by now. There has been small incidents but nothing that meets scientific standards. Why? It may have to do with the Brahma Vishnu, Chesed-Geverah dichotomy. If there is too much benevolence, not enough severity, destruction and death, then evolution stagnates.

Death is the great engine of evolution. When confronted with change the best adapted species resists death better than the less. Nature is not sentimental. Nature goes for turnover. In fact the species that live and die off the most quickly (microorganisms) are the ones that evolve the fastest in response to change. That’s why viruses like tuberculosis and Stapholococcus drive doctors mad, they mutate to resist anti-biotics very fast. You will never meet a microbiologist or a virologist who doesn’t believe in evolution. So if you have a world where there is a benign environment, a paradise, the march of evolution stops. Who needs it? Intelligent life will probably never evolve in paradise. What about Hell?

If you have a planet where life gets a foothold, but is constantly struck down by volcanic catastropes, viral plagues, or by large bolides setting off mass extinctions every few million years, some of them severe, then intelligent life doesn’t get a foot hold either. We exist largely because of the planet Jupiter.Jupiter exists outside our orbit, and has immense gravity. It plays shortstop to about half the space junk that goes falling into our solar system before it ever reaches out orbit. Without Saturn and Jupiter we would have gone the way of the dinosaurs several times already. There was a time, about 100,000 years ago, where the entire population of hominids’ of all species totaled a few hundred thousand, and lived mostly in Africa. If something big had hit Africa then, setting off a mass extinction on the level of the KT or Permian extinctions, there would be no human beings in the world at all. The smartest thing on earth might be a porpoise, and because they live in water they’re incapable of radio technology.

It also brings up the problem of monotheism and evil. All living things resist death. Human beings especially fear death and look for explanations. In the case of a religion where there is one God, you either have to blame evil on that image of God or create a devil as a dump ground for all evil events. This places a great burden for people who want to have a personal relationship with God and yet have to fear his power and judgments. Mysticism sets aside the whole question of evil as being naturalistic, a perceived element of nature, but as illusory as goodness. God is beyond these things the way natural law is beyond these things. I think this is probably the way things really are, but there is no comfort in it, and its power to inspire people to great deeds is very limited.The belief in a humanistic image of a God of love and goodness is the power to inspire faith. Faith is that natural magic that enables our species to bend reality itself.

Now there's a great idea for a story.