The Importance of Responding Rightly to Critical Information

by rthieme on February 11, 2006

[This is “flash fiction,” a new category generated from the fact that smaller texts are more congenial to online reading at the moment.  This was published in the Potomac Review, a literary magazine from Montgomery College in Rockville MD in the Fall/Winter issue opf 2005-2006.

It reminded me of that figure-and-ground plaything which looks like a silhouette from one point of view and a chalice or cup from another. Then it flickers back and forth between the two. This story should read the same way.]

The Importance of Responding Rightly to Critical Information

by Richard Thieme

Now that know I am dying, it is necessary to decide what to do with the time I have left.

News of this sort is never unexpected – or expected, really. Our troubles, my Buddhist son tells me, come from believing that today we won’t die. Borges said something similar, that we forget we are all dead men talking to other dead men.

I wish I could say that, once we know, we don’t forget – but we do. Denial is more addictive than crack. That feeling of urgency, knowing what’s most important, diminishes over time and we act once more as if we will live forever.

Awareness has a half life of ninety days when it’s caused by trauma.

This time I really did get it, however. At least I think I did. The way it was said, the way the data was presented, left nowhere to hide. So maybe I won’t forget this time.

I notice a real change in the way I am behaving, for example. I find myself appraising the relative value of friends. I don’t dismiss the ones who don’t measure up but I refuse to make them priorities. I’ll be polite when I can but if they don’t get the message … well, look, I will say in effect, I don’t have forever. Every minute of our lives is a hotel room that can never again be rented. We had better invite the right guests.

Then too I want to take a good look at how I spend my time. Our choices are more constrained than we think but there is some leverage. It begins with being aware, I think. I’ve known for a long time that I am not doing what I really like. I hear whispers from the closed-off rooms of my haunted house of a soul. If I don’t listen, the whispers will grow louder and turn into a crazy aunt in the attic banging on the floor at all hours. It’s better to engage. Then we can negotiate. So long as she knows I’m working on it, I think she’ll be reasonable. Those distorted voices are like children left in a room with the door open. Seeing your mother working in the kitchen makes it easier to be there. Knowing you can talk to her helps.

First, however, I have to tell Jan, my wife. We have to make plans. There are things to do. But Jan will have an even harder time keeping this information in the foreground. At first it will be like a flashing neon sign or a large italicized font; then it will dissolve back into the white noise of her life and the foreground will fill again with trivia, unreality, bogus goals. I can’t allow that to happen. There’s too much at stake.

But you know Jan. You know what she’s like. You know why in some ways I am less afraid of dying than telling Jan what I found out. …

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: