Death Be Not Proud
Updated: May 23
Even before I confronted death at age 15, I had tastes, desires, and a temperament that did not fit. I danced, and sang, and immersed myself in an imaginary world, in play that I much preferred to the sad reality around me. I wanted out and the only escape hatch was solitude in which I created, or culture which I imbibed. I turned my back on family and obligation. I pretended so as to participate in a life that I loved rather than despised.
The threat of death just intensified everything about me that was different. Working for money seemed a horrible way to waste your life. Whiling away the hours doing something bereft of passion and meaning. Was I supposed to survive to gratefully climb aboard the trolley of the daily grind? In my head, Judy Garland stops singing the Trolley Song from “Meet Me in St. Louis” and veers right into “I Don’t Care” from “In the Good Old Summertime.” For too long I played the right tunes on my productivity piano, trying to meet expectations, please all the people who neither cared nor understood.
Just because I am not paid to work, does not mean I am free of the scales of meaning and justice. Ever since almost dying, I have weighed my words and deeds like infinitesimal amounts of gold I am accumulating to make me feel okay, to redeem my cost, to pay the universe the full amount for my living another day. I admire people who are competent in a worldly way. Who drive and park, who dress and appear respectable, who labor and deposit, who practice politeness and who sign on the dotted line of the contract that is life. That I long ago ripped up my obligations and to do lists is both a privilege and a vocation of uncertainty and instinct, a faith in the intangible that is only confirmed by my feeling my own wounds, by my testifying from damage to health, however precarious.
I make it my non-business to meet other people stuck in the cracks of society, the broken, the moody, the not-quite-fit, the takers and the makers who will never receive benefits, prizes, newspaper write-ups, or cemetery stones surrounded by admirers. The silent and the hurt. Those who see and those who know without notoriety. The stuck and the stubborn. The impossible dreamers. It is only the hopeless or near hopeless causes that intrigue me. It is only the most forlorn that I find worthy of investment, my time and energy suited only to disabled, vulnerable, yet passionate partners, yearning for an outlet, for someone’s eyes and ears, for a hand on the door of the rundown apartment, pushing it ever open, letting in a glimmer of light.