Athiesm and death. How cheery.
This hasn't been a good week, or a good month really.
I was lucky enough to grow-up with a pair of grandparents interested in me, and-luckyier still-who were close enough to do something about it. I could spend a few weeks in the summer with them, visit them for dinner, help with home renovations, and take advantage of my grandpa's encyclopedic knowledge of autos. My grandma and I would spend late evenings watching Johnny Carson. Grandpa never stayed up that late, unless maybe I was sick. He went to bed around ten every night, or was it nine? My memory is a little fuzzy there. Early is what I am saying. The man went to bed early, and got up early to work every day he and grandma were together. The man was a work horse. I tried to emulate the way he ate Big Macs and fries. Hell, I ordered Big Macs because he did. I always thought the way he held cigarettes was the coolest thing, relaxed and natural like something out of a Dashell Hammet novel. He was certainly tough like one of Hammet's rogues. More Continental Op than Sam Spade.
My grandma died a week after my daughter was born. She held Ani (my brilliant brat, not the punk-folk singer) for the first and only time the day she died. She had spent the evening chatting up a friend of hers about all the new baby errands they were going to do the very next day. They talked till midnight. Grandma died a few hours later. She had seemed so proud and happy holding Ani, she positively glowed. And that is a phrase I fucking hate, but it is all that is appropriate because she did.
In the six-plus years between that day and this, my clan has watched the former great patriarch in a slow slip-slide descent from the mythological character we all grew up with, into this old man, I certainly don't really know. He doesn't get up early anymore and hasn't for years. He has diabetes that he scarcely acknowledges dietarily, and hearing aides he prefers not to use. Of late there have been mini-strokes, ambulances and hospital stays.
That is, if you were unclear, prescisously the opposite of uplifting.
One of my best friends, Rosy, is watching her father suffer through what will likely be his last ordeal. There are details, and they mostly involve tubes, and life support, and emergency surgical procedures and they are all unpleasant. I won't belabor them.
Rosy and I have been friends since we were in high school. I could find her at Little Shebas, when it was a dive mind you, not the yuppy place it is now, all lit sparsely and seeming red. She would be smoking and drinking coffee, watching the cars go by and writing better poetry than I ever did. I don't really know how we became friends. She had been planning on beating me up, I think, for the horribly thoughtless way I dumped her best friend. Ask her for the details, she knows better than I do why she opted for the oh well that is between he and Martine approach. All I know is that I am glad she did. Rosy has been there for me at just about every major cross-roads in my life. Never judgemental, but certainly willing to call me on my bullshit, and rationalization. She always dealt honestly with me, and with everybody. Its probably why she's such a good lawyer. And poet when she was.
Which brings me to my atheism. I want to be there for my best friend. But as an atheist I feel pretty impotent in situations so desperately sad and tense. I feel as useless a guy with a black belt in Aikido would feel in a fight. Which is, of course, to say completely and totally. I feel like anything I could say would be clumsy, shallow, and useless.
"I'll be praying for you."
When people say that shit, it sounds like they are doing something about your troubles. There is an aura of intimate involvement in that statement. hey, it says, i'm going to put in a good word for you and yours to, well , the Man of course. To the Man for chrissakes! In the Atheistic vernacular there is nowhere as powerful a locution. It kinda sucks. "You're in my thoughts," or "I'm hoping for the best," just don't have the same Hey I'm gonna talk to the ole' I am that I am man about your situation feel. "You're in my thoughts," doesn't have the same intimately involved, on top of things feel. My mom is always boring people with that "I am praying for you" stuff. And between you and me, I really wish she would knock it off.
Its easy when its your own situation. As an athiest, I can accept what is going on with my grandpa. I'm not happy about it. But, as much I can, I accept it. Because what the hell else can I do? Certainly I won't waste time praying to the god of the flipped coin. The god of .5. I can accept the fact that when we die, the show is over, lights out, curtains down, exit stage left. It isn't anything I caw about at family funerals or anything. It is certainly nothing I would say too much about in front of my mom, who I am guessing would scoff all angry faced, and say "Oh Max stop it!"
For others though, my support, and care, I worry, must seem so hollow. "Oh they live on in our memories?" Great. "We have to hope for the best? Well no shit." I don't know if that is how my friends have felt. I don't know if they want to hear something about seeing a lost loved one in heaven, or a next life. Mostly I just wish I had something I could say, or somthing I could do that would let them , my friends, know that I'm with them and for them, and that my fondest wishes involve their happiness.