I think I've raved here some before about the someecards website and how lovely I think it is. I have to stay away from drinking liquids when reading it lest I spray said liquid all over the screen in choking laughter. Many of the cards you can send are hilarious because they so concisely encapsulate some of the more crude or dark thoughts that pass through the human mind now and then, and in a way that somehow brilliantly echo my own sense of humor. That's maybe not such a good thing...some of them - okay, most of them - are outright offensive in their very existence, let alone if you were to actually to send them to another person, so I largely spend time browsing, and then refraining. Definitely NSFW.
Lately I've also taken up the habit of using the someecards motif to create my own cards, which often channel some dark thought or bit of sarcastic humor going through my own mind in moments of weakened self-discipline, but that I wouldn't really ever want to say out loud. It's fun because other people on the site will vote and comment on them, and sometimes even send them to their acquaintances (er, enemies?).
So, check 'em out, add your own, and send me a card. Or...maybe berate me for indulging? It's always interesting to see how it plays out for different senses of humor...how does that stuff strike you?
These "links for the week" posts are a lame substitute for real blog posts, but I hope you enjoy them anyway. I'm working on some other entries about my experience with "power off day," my preferred task list organization system (it's NOT GTD), the difficulties of personal change in a vacuum, and more on media coverage of energy prices - so stay tuned. But for now:
Smaller Indiana, a social networking site for Indiana people, with an apparent trend toward IT/design professionals. It's built on Ning, which I'm considering as a platform for a few projects. But mostly I'm just excited to see social networking applied at a more regional/local level - a great trend.
Every day, most humans are faced with choices, many of which are about making changes, taking on new directions, starting new journeys, facing up to problems, communicating honestly with each other, finding better ways to live. What are some of the mental barriers that keep us from taking on the things we want to do in our lives? What keeps us from choosing a better way?
I think that one of the hardest things a person can be asked to do is confront the value of their own life weighed against that of the world around them. But we see the tensions of this confrontation everywhere - balancing our self-interest against our service to others; balancing our concept of the good life against the survival of other species and the environment they live in; balancing our intense love for a small group of people against the thousands of neglected and unloved that die in some unknown place.
Last night, I saw one of the recent movies to come out about wars and the nature of the experience for those fighting in them. This one was about Vietnam, and it did an amazing job of contrasting the emotion and intensity of individual participants (American and Vietnamese) against vast scenes of death and destruction, hundreds of lives being ended violently and quickly and without prejudice. But the overall feeling I walk away with is awe at the magnitude of the loss of life. The movie tells us that loss of life on this scale can be worthwhile - that sacrificing spouses and parents, hundreds at a time, is sometimes necessary. And, perhaps unfortunately, this is the message that is absorbed from these films, more so than the sense that the loss of any particular man or woman is in itself a horrible tragedy. For who can bear the burden of reflecting on the pain and sadness of any and every widow and widower, son and daughter, mother and father that would hold their loved one no more?
When I wake up this morning, I go into the kitchen and see on the front page of the paper that a local high school student has died in a car accident. The picture on the front is of my housemate Charlie, a volunteer firefighter, wading around a half-sunk, overturned car in an icy creek. Charlie says that the shot was taken right before he went under to try to find the kid. We talk about the rescue effort, how cold it was, and how sad it is. "Poor kid." Thinking about the shock and the sadness and the sense of loss that his friends and family will experience breaks my heart as I sit and stare at the words on the page.
But how can I put it into context, how can I think about the loss in terms of all the loss that was experienced that day, even in that hour, around the world? How can that tragedy be weighed against images of boys the same age as the accident victim being shot, stabbed, blown up, and burned as they run through the forest fighting for a country that will notify their next of kin via telegram delivered by taxicab?
At either extreme, the value of life is sharply more understandable than in the relatively mundane existence that is common in the middle. There is the sense that I am doing an injustice to that boy and those soldiers by worrying about my plans for the summer, stressing over too many meetings, pondering my weight and my exercise regimen. I know that I may never have an opportunity to truly experience the appreciation of simply being alive because I may never understand how good life is, and how easily it slips away.
The resolution, it would seem, might come in the form of relativism - the sense that the value of our lives can only be completely known when taken in the context of those around us who we love, fight for, and miss when they are gone. It is too cold to say that because life HAS been lost on massive scales in the past, the value of an individual life is decreased. But neither does it feel right to say that we must all mourn deeply and at length over the loss of every stranger...again, who can bear that burden?
Even in relativism, I can find no peace. But it is perhaps the unanswered question - what is life worth - that can inspire us to seek ways of living our own lives that pay tribute to those who no longer have life, and to those who miss them.
The boy, trying to ignore the reoccurring dull pain in his left side, brought his hands together in front of his face, and held them there, barely touching. He moved his index fingers together and smiled at the brief moment before they touched, when each seemed to gently reach out to the other, attracting and pulling and melting into the moment of contact.
The girl, several hundred miles away and an hour from the nearest hospital, dropped her shovel and fell back into the sand screaming in terror from the pressure in her skull. Even when mommy scooped her up and held her tight and told her it would be okay, she could not stop screaming. She cried because it hurt and she did not understand.
The old woman ran her fingers over the smooth cover of the book on her bedside table, comforted at its presence though she could not see its pages. She had always had books near her, as a mother, as a teacher, and as a grandmother, and now she wanted to have one ready to read as soon as she got her strength back. She sighed at hearing the birds outside her window eating from the feeder down below, wishing she could see them, imagining that she did. She wondered if any of the friends or family who had come to say goodbye would remember to fill it again.
The old man nodded his head slowly as he was led past his wife's casket. He briefly ran his fingers over its (almost inappropriately) shiny wood surface, not so long as to acknowledge fully this loss, but just long enough to say "I know you don't belong in there." After sixty-five years together in a world such as this, it did not seem possible that he was breathing while she was not. He thought about how much work there was to do, and how he just wanted to take a nap, wondering if she would be there when he awoke.
The boy glanced up only briefly at his mother, but then back to the dashboard, and then out the windshield to the car in front of them. Briefly, the flashing of the other car's turn signal again came in sync with the clicking noise coming from their own, but then quickly went off into its own cycle. Why not make all car turn signals click with the same rhythm? He giggled quietly at the (somehow unsatisfying) answer to his question as he pictured a great, unified clicking noise on all the streets of all the world. Then, the car turned and it was quiet again.
The girl thought about her father's answer to her question as they kept walking: "Because he is a bad man, and he doesn't deserve it." He hadn't looked like a bad man. He had startled them a bit and he looked kind of dirty, but mostly he looked tired and hungry, sitting in that doorway covered in his blankets and newspapers. The girl could not know about the "bad" man's lung cancer, or that he could only sleep in that doorway because it was Sunday, or that she would be startled by quite a few more like him in her lifetime. But she quietly decided that she would have given him some money, if she had any. So what if he didn't deserve it?
The man tried to look deeply into his wife's sad and cautious eyes, but with every word he spoke he realized more that the depth he sought would have to be recreated rather than rediscovered. The horror would never quite leave him, that he had somehow justified a few moments of unworthy pleasure for this numbing pain he had brought into their marriage. As he looked at the woman he loved - perhaps more so than he loved himself? - he promised that, if she could forgive him, he would learn how to love all over again.
The woman laughed beautifully and fully as she tried to cover her husband in the leaves they had gathered, ignoring the itching against her skin and the damp cold on her fingers. They tossed each other around gently and finally lay side by side in the messy pile they had created. They drew close as she wrapped her arm around his chest and he put his hand in the small of her back. She looked intently up at the rounded space of his neck, wondering if she could curl up in that space and go to sleep. She had told him that she forgave him many times, and they had oddly never stopped saying "I love you." But it was only now that she fully appreciated the intensity and depth of the love with which they had covered each other, the forgiveness and pain inherent in it, and the contentment of knowing that it would survive and shape them forever.
With the noise of the reception now off in the distance, the man and the woman, the boy and the girl, stood facing each other, hands raised and each with palms nervously but firmly pressed against the other's. It was a perfect darkness and the temperature let them forget about their skin and their balance and their mass. They looked deeply, smiling at the joy of this night and of these several years together. Each wondered how they met, how this moment came to be, and each looked for signs about what it would mean to spend the rest of their lives together. As their faces neared, each seemed to gently reach out to the other, attracting and pulling and melting into the moment of contact. Moments before the physical touch, another kind of touch that explains everything engulfed them both.
It seemed to be all my friend Eppie could remember about her father's death: the Ten minutes right before it. She had watched him die for months and had grieved for years afterward but the climax of the "event" as she remembered it was never the moment of death itself, but the Ten minutes beforehand.
It always seemed odd to me that Ten minutes of life would mean more than the life lost, but the wistful stare in Eppie's eyes when we talked about it brought me closer to understanding. You see, in those last Ten minutes of her father's life, she realized that her father was dying. According to her (and sometimes her mother), their eyes met as this sunk in at about minute number Three and that was when he realized it too. One of the nurses reflected later that in that moment, even though all the damn machines were going off and people were waving goodbye in their hearts, he felt like the cancer "just up and left" Eppie's father and that "if we hadn't all been so intent on him dying he might have up and walked away from the whole mess." But with Seven minutes to go, what are you gonna do, especially if you don't know you have even that much?
Cry is what Eppie wanted to do, but her father wouldn't have it. He was mostly gone and mostly ready, but he wasn't just about to slip out. The damnedest thing is that every power involved seemed raring for him to do just that, but right as minute Four started to head into its second half, he sat up in bed and held out his hands.
The real excitement wasn't that he was sitting up, though this was apparently something he hadn't done since he woke from the last round of miserable skin slashing and marrow moving, but the real excitement came when he held out his right hand as if it were a flat slate and with his left made a scribbling motion. Now it seems his hands were pretty weak so I guess the motion wasn't that clear to Eppie at the time, so it took until about minute Five and forty-five seconds until she realized that her father, who had lived 43 years of life and who had devoted 12 of them to her happiness, was trying to get a message across. And this time, it wasn't the "need more water" or the "change the channel" signing he would have to make because there were so many awful tubes in his beautiful mouth; no, this time it was something that gave him enough strength to hoist his tired and dying body closer to his daughter. This time it was a message that made nothing else matter.
Eppie never got that message. No one in that room did. The very thought of the situation makes me want to cry, and I can't really even begin to imagine what it does to my friend. When minute Six reared its head, Eppie shouted for a paper and pen and her mom followed Seconds later with a cry for the same. The one time when Eppie went into a lot of detail about it, she said "the damn hospital kept the place so clean and reality-free that there wasn't a writing utensil or paper to be found in the room." But it got worse. The nurse who felt the cancer leave walked out looking for something to write on as minute Seven walked in. Eppie's father looked around questioningly and his hand stopped scribbling. He just sat there, she said. "Just sat there and waited for something to write on. My dad had been waiting to die for six months and now all he had to wait for was a pen and some paper."
The nurse had to go far to get it. He had to watch the head nurse fumble around the admit desk for something suitable for a patient to use. He had to watch the head nurse scribble ink on a piece of scratch paper to make sure the pen worked. He could not say anything because it was almost minute Eight and that ink "might as well have been life flowing out of that poor man's body."
Eight and a half and his head started to droop. Eight and forty and his head hit the pillow. Just a few before Nine and his hands fell all the way down by his side. Nine-oh-five and Eppie grabbed both of them. Nine ten and his squinting eyes were for ced closed by the rising smile that defied a tube that gave him breath. Nine thirty and there was so little movement and so many tears. Minute Ten rolled around and the message left forever like a secret that is so secret you forget about it. After that, Eppie's life was only ever measured in hours and days and tears, but never in such minutes and seconds as those.
We won't always be able to figure out that dad wants to write us a message. The damn hospital isn't always going to have some paper and a pen lying around. There isn't always going to be a nurse, and if there is, he isn't always going to care about your dad. Sometimes, what we do in minute number Two matters so much more than what happens in minute number Nine. This is a happy story. These are the greatest Ten minutes of your life.