Thursday, March 19, 2009

On Death and Beautiful Things

It's raining, it's pouring,
The old man is snoring.
Bumped his head
Went to bed,
And didn't wake up in the morning.
I prefer to think the old man simply slept in til noon. Or I modify the lyrics from "didn't wake up IN the morning" to "didn't wake up UNTIL the morning," the translucent membrane between life and death separated by a mere preposition. I suppose I prefer my nursery rhymes rainbow colored, the cradle still swinging high in the treetop, the ring around the rosie referring not so much to the Black Plague as it is a wild English garden. Tra la la, life is good, and then you die. Yes, AND THEN YOU DIE.
I am embarrassed by how much I am affected by the death of celebrities. Heath Ledger, Anna Nicole Smith, Kanye West's mother, for Chrissakes. Up until yesterday I thought Natasha Richardson was in the Hotel New Hampshire, but no, that was Natassja Kinksi; and still, I feel an emptiness where somebody used to be. Did you hear? I wait a few minutes after I pick up Bryan from the ferry to tell him at the end of the day. After all, it can't be the first thing out of my mouth. Who is she? Bryan asks when I tell him. And I rattle off her stats having just looked her up on IMDB. You know, the mother in The Parent Trap? She was in Maid in Manhatten with JLo? Nell? And then when none of this rings a bell, she's the real life sister of that woman you hate on Nip/Tuck. Oh, Bryan says, okay. And then after a minute he says, I don't hate the actress, just her character. To be clear. 'Cause that's pretty sad. And we drive the rest of the way home in silence, me loving my husband who does not hate the sisters of dead women, the world tragic enough already.
I do not know what is happening in Darfur. Sudan. Sierra Leone. I know it is bad and that there is not much I can do, although I also know better than that. If we all did something... The absurdity, though, of a culture that blasts the headlines of an actress' death while a genocide occurs far and away, off camera. Since 2003, 400,000 people have been murdered in Darfur and yet I do not feel an emptiness where they used to be. They are not on IMDB.
Oh no, my mom says when I tell her on the phone that Natasha Richardson has died. That is just terrible. Who was her mother again? Vanessa Redgrave, I tell her. That's right, my mother says, and then she tells me the story of a man she knew growing up, a friend of her father's who would often come over for dinner because he was a widower. One night his wife bumped her head on their swinging door. Ouch, she said, and then went to bed that night never to wake up again. It's raining, it's pouring. And this is why I'm a fatalist, my mother says, the story now over. A subdural hematoma, the punchline of prognoses everywhere, seemingly the absence of sense and free will and fairness.
I do everything I can to stay alive (short of eating well and exercise): I am a smug non-smoker, a bit of a teetotaler. I wear my seat belt, believing not so much in free will but in a fate that is determined simply because I want it. Which is stupid, I know. As if the people in Darfur don't want to live. As if Natasha Richardson didn't want to just learn how to ski. As if me wanting a long healthy life with my family is enough.
My step-father most likely has cancer. Already he has progressive MS, is a quadraplegic in a wheelchair, sleeps with a machine pumping oxygen because his lungs are weak, but now his kidneys are failing rapidly and they have found masses. He is not ready to die, and that is the biggest tragedy of them all, that any of us should die before we have the courage and peace to let go. This is my modern day holocaust, this deep yawning sadness of a thousand deaths that are not my own, and so I think of Natasha Richardson. A woman who meant nothing to me. A death that means nothing to me except that I am able to think about it at all.

And now, for Beautiful Things (lest you commit hari kari after this happy happy joy joy of a post):


amy b.s. said...

I too am embarrassed by how much the celebrity part affects me. I still feel a loss over Heath Ledger in some sense. My husband actually made me feel silly for talking about it so much last night. But I think it's okay to feel sadness for those we do not know. Somewhere their families are going through hell and at some point we will all experience that, so for it to be on your mind isn't necessarily unnatural. It's life.

Good Enough Woman said...

I think the thing that freaks me out about celebrity deaths is that if THEY--who are larger than life, so-to-speak--are susceptible to death, certainly I am even more so. And in the case of Richardson, she just bumped her head during ski lesson. Didn't even hit anything. Felt FINE until about an hour later. And then she DIED. What?!? It scares me.

beachbungalow8 said...

had to scroll down immediately to watch zoe. such. passion. I like the pronunciation on the last 'tings' especially.

Anonymous said...

I agree w/ Good Enough Woman ~ it almost seems absurd that this tragedy stemmed from a fall after which she felt fine.

Another thing to add to my ever-growing hypochondriasis..

Kwana said...

I hear you and feel you.These deaths do make us feel I guess because if they can can be hurt so can we. I'm in my own mess problems just like you every day but this stopped me in my tracks and I hurt and feel for her and her family terribly. Can't help it. I guess it's a reminder that none of us are really safe from hurt. Thanks for the Beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I, too, didn't know who she was yet am so profoundly affected.

In other news, today marks the 6 year (!) anniversary of the little "conflict" in Iraq. But, I know, who's counting?

Jessie said...

My heart hurt for Natasha's family this morning when I heard the news...

Then I felt silly.

Then I realized that it's ok to feel sympathy and even loss for people you don't even know.

As to whether or not we feel it for the lives that have been tragically lost to genocide or war... I think if there were a way to know their stories, their names, their families... we'd feel it more.

erin said...

eloquently put. this is such a nearly impossible subject to breach. not for lack of desire (not always at least) but often bc really what can you say? we don't know when death will come, or how. none of us really wants it, or can imagine being ready. becoming a mother only heightens these fears and thoughts ten million fold. once your baby is born you have this enormous love and yet you have an open wound which will never heal. you are forever vulnerable and practically have to distract yourself from thinking of how delicate and fleeting life is, or else, really, why not just hole up with your family in the house & never leave for fear of death catching up with someone. it's inevitable, and no amount of self-help books make that go away. celebrity death puts a spotlight and allows a collective public to morn together, something which we all fear. i have no answers, but I do find comfort in your words, thanks for being so open. and on a lighter note, what a great & much need song 'Beautiful Things' :-)

krista said...

i cannot stop thinking about natasha richardson. like i knew her, her family.
perhaps it's because i knew OF her. liked what i knew. and it scares me to think that people who seem so happy and wealthy and full of life and love don't have control over any of this. i mean, what the hell am i going to be able to control for my daughter? what the hell can i protect her from?

and, i swear it sounds like she is singing 'beautiful legs' and i am going to play this for myself every morning as i get dressed.

Lynne said...

This post really resonated with me. Not just because I blogged about something similar a few days ago ... the silent genocide that we all ignore because the millions dying in Zimbabwe, South Africa, wherever don't seem like real people.
Thanks so much for voicing this!

kristin said...

i have the opportunity to babysit my friends son every tuesday. and i watch him every second, mentally recording what happens because i'm afraid of what "could" happen. i can't even begin to imagine what that's like when you have your own.
good thing he's entertaining:)

i didn't know natasha had died till i read your post. i've had two "slight"(docs words, not mine) concussions. the swirling of feeling for her family and that could of happened to me, and then the video of zoe makes me feel wobbly, but i think i can hold my ground. it's midnight and i just muted the ASPCA commercial cause i couldn't stop getting teary. new can of worms!!!

ps. i used to be "kristinimartini"
but now i am professional "kristin"

Anonymous said...

That is the dilemma, isn't it? How to wrap ourselves up enough to protect ourselves and loved ones from all the possibles, all the it's happening right nows, how to let in enough to matter and how to reconcile that which we ignore and that which manages to slip through.

Wrap yourself in Beautiful Things. The real ones. The ones that can not be purchased or denied. You seem to have a good handle on that with Zoey.

Lisa said...

This is beautifully written.

I concur completely - when a celebrity dies it is all I can think about for days, and I feel all-encompassing sadness. Sometimes, like in the case of Heath Ledger, I still can't think of him without tears coming to my eyes - I had to leave the room when he won the Oscar because I just didn't want to sit there in a room full of people while I sobbed for someone I never met.

I'm happy to know others feel the same, and I think I agree with Good Enough Woman - if those that are bigger than life can go, then that will one day be my fate as well.

Lara said...

I was so saddened to hear of Richardson's death, and then when you hear that she barely even hit her head and was talking and felt fine, and then...So, I did some research. I have some dr. friends (at the moment I'd prefer friends who could give me a job, but whatever. You take what you can) who told me that after someone hits their head the first hour is critical. Shine a flashlight in their eyes to make sure the pupils contract and ask everyday questions, like Where do you live? What's your dog's name? etc. I'm sure a lot of people know this, but I didn't. It helped me sleep last night. :)

Laurie Stark said...

Beautiful things, indeed.

I've gotta say, I wasn't sure if this post was going somewhere relatable for me and then, by the end, I was just about laughing through tears, crying from laughing. You've got it, girl. Man oh man.

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