“............The doctor said,
“There are things we can do which might give you time,
but we cannot cure you.” My father said,
“Thank you.” And he sat, motionless, alone,
with the dignity of a foreign leader.”
- Sharon Olds
When my father received the final message, this was what he had left to fight for - dignity.
I have shipped the oars, he said.
It was we who were not prepared to let him go.
Erin of “the tiny leaf” had me wondering. Do we own our bodies? Do we own our lives? Why are we so afraid of dying?
I have no answer but asking new questions. How can we not fear the unknown? It is only natural, like the naturalness of dying. Which is not natural at all. When my father died, I was angry. At life. At death. At him. At myself. But life is generous, it grants a multitude of perspectives. Little by little I grew into a new one like a dandelion forcing its way through tarmac.
Do we own our bodies, do we own our lives?
He will not leave till we give him the permission, I said. It was only hours before he died. He held on, held on, till the time had come. And we said, you may go now.
Or perhaps it wasn’t like that at all.
I was not present when my father left. Yet I had so wanted to be there.
As life, imagination is generous, It offered me a chance to go back.
There was a bird, there were wings flapping. They lifted off from my father´s head. As they did, the wings transformed into a pair of hands, waiving. The flapping and the waiving, the flapping and the waiving, I couldn’t see which was which. But as I bid farewell to a pair of wings, of hands waiving, I noticed the silence. The flapping of the wings. And the silence.
Do we own our bodies? Do we own our lives?
I have no idea. All I hear is a pair of wings flapping.
And then there is silence.
Sharon Olds, “His Stillness” from Strike Sparks: Selected Poems 1980-2002.
Photos © Grete S. Kempton