Sunday, June 3, 2012

18) Skeletal Remains

Simon strides into the room, bends down to push aside the coffee table betwixt him and me, takes both my hands, and looks into my soul. We are old friends from long ago. We are new friends of the right now. We are sympatico souls of the evermore. Earlier Anthony and Aisha, his live-in friend, brought in a magnificent spread of prepared foods. South African 'bredie' and other delightful dishes way beyond my familiarity had been readied overnight and came in a carload of containers into the cottage. The sheer work to organize such a "we will bring dinner to you" event was momentous in itself. But the moment of seeing Simon again made it all worth it, for all of us. None of us expected his vitality and enthusiasm and even appetite. "It was as though he spent the last weeks containing his energy just for this occasion," Anthony later said to us, after Simon had left with his wife, Pauline. We were debriefing. All Aisha and Anthony's efforts and care and energy and thoughtfulness turned out to be a splendid success! Earlier that afternoon, what with Mike and Rob there, the plan was for we six boys, including Simon, to have afternoon tea, but it was not to be. Anthony's phone calls established that Simon was just not up to it. "But he wants you know that he deeply appreciates the effort and intentions and care behind your coming here today," Anthony had explained. Next to the statue of the elephant, Mike's usual generosity had filled the kitchen counter. Boerewors and melktert and rusks and Koeksisters and... Well, South Africa would have been proud of Mike's intentions to bring Simon a bit of our common heritage. And together, just then, we all realized that we just might not get to see Simon ever again. But the elephant in the room stayed still. The profound colloquialism in Afrikaans echoes volumes: "Stilbly is ook 'n antwoord"; silence is also an answer. But now, here was Simon in full measure. Skeletal, soft spoken, and forthright, he sat in the armchair next to mine and spoke openly of death and dying and his disease. He still wanted to know about our lives. He still informed about his. A window-dresser, a dishwasher, a restaurant owner, a chef, a triple restaurant owner, a dealer in African crafts, he had lived a full life. He wanted only to have some beach time, some holiday time with his beloved grown up sons, Ben and Henry, before he died. And as for an epitaph? Don't be afraid to love others or to let them love you, was his advice. He loved Morrie's quote: "If you wait until the final moment before you tell someone that you love them, you better have great timing." Ha! Simon was aware! Ashes spread everywhere. Curmudgeonly, crusty, angry, these were still some of the qualities he retained. He was incensed at injustice, racism, inequality, commercial exploitation. He still appreciated fine wine, expertly prepared food. He had brought two vintage reds for our dinner. But often nowadays, due to his cancer, food tasted like styrofoam, you know? That last rhetorical is a Simon trademark. All the time I've known him he tags his sentences with a sense of including you into his knowledge, his insight, his care. This food, he lets Aisha and Anthony know, is excellent. It is more than they've seen him eat in a very very long time. Live life now. It's short. He must have been with us for about two hours if not three. Indeed, Simon is still a force to be reckoned with. But no, he does not rage against the dying of the light. He leaves rather in gentle meander toward the door, to bid goodnight.

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