It came for the Archbishop
(no. 4) And it will come for you. Forbidden thoughts, by Stephen P. Williams
First, an aside. If you are in your 20s, and freaking out about wrinkles, this Vague, I mean Vogue, article might help. Or it might just be a tool for exploiting the money out of your pocket. Buyer beware.
Wrinkles — not cool. Photo by Sean McGee on Unsplash
This is a moving story about the loyalty of a Harvard statistician and geneticist named Leonid Peshkin, which will inevitably expire. Peshkin was born to an older father, and at age ten began worrying that his dad might die. It didn’t happen. Pushkin became a specialist in the science of aging and now, nearly 40 years later, he is watching his 96 year old father devolve. As he watches, he is trying to prevent his father’s death, as so many of us do. It’s not selfless. When a parent dies it shows us that we, also, are on that same path. A National Institutes of Health Study found that the death of a father has a greater impact on sons, such as Peshkin, than on daughters. (And vice versa.) I could find no studies of gender non-binary children and parental death.
I hesitate to write about death, because death is such a loaded subject, freighted with negative and fearful thoughts, at least when one is older. I feel guilty for bringing it up.
And also feel superstitious, as though writing this might trigger my own demise. I think back to when I was a teenager. Death happened around me then, but I didn’t think it would ever happen to me. Teenagers, in general, seem more intrigued by death, than frightened of it. For some of them, death is a GIF.
Arianna Grande/Jimmy Fallon GIF from tenor.com
My parents, my children’s mother, my junior high girlfriend and all the wonderful grandmothers and great aunts that guided me have died. I assume I will die one day, myself. Even writing that sentence I have a tingling, magical feeling that perhaps it won’t happen. I’m not alone in this. In a letter to the family of a recently deceased friend, Albert Einstein wrote: “Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
In this sense, we don’t die, because actually there is no time. You can make this case with physics. It’s more difficult to make this case when you are looking at a dead body. I have seen several people die. I was with my lovely, self destructive great aunt Leah when she passed away in a Las Vegas hospital, pale pink hair still wisping back off her forehead. At the moment of death her blue eyes popped wide open, as if in a gasp, and then the only thing alive was the machine at her bedside.
I understand why Dr. Peshkin labors at his father’s bedside to keep him younger than he would be if he died. I think most of us spend our adult lives trying to accomplish this for ourselves. We might learn well from the Sufis, who have tended to contemplate death, in life, and even suggest that dying over and over in life brings you closer to God.
Photograph by Gisèle Freund
Frida Kahlo allowed the German-born French photographer and photojournalist Gisèle Freund to photograph her at home in the years before she died, in 1954. The photographs are collected in the fascinating book, Frida Kahlo: the Gisele Freund Photographs. I assume Kahlo died in the bed above, in Coyoacán, a village that has since been subsumed by Mexico City, but I do not know. I have seen that bed in person, but felt no connection to the afterlife. I am contemplating today something the artist is said to have written in her diary a few days before her death: “I hope the exit is joyful -- and I hope never to return -- Frida.” Curiously, she lives on, her image, her ideals and her art. She’s far more real to the world in death than she was in life.
Have you survived this discussion of the forbidden topic? Good. Me too. Now we can just enjoy getting older together. At moments like this, I turn to Twiggy.
Other news for young and old, and those who are neither
Dandelions and Weeds
Tommy turned 121 years old this year. Though it’s true she has spent half of that time sleeping. Born in 1898, Tommy was purchased by an English woman named Margaret Cloonan in 1909 for one pound. Tommy is a tortoise, and has lived, first with Cloonan and then her descendants, in various English gardens ever since. Her caretakers thought she was a boy until one day they found eggs she had laid. She spends the summer eating dandelions and weeds, hibernates through the winter, and habitually wakes up on April 1. A foolish, wonderful way to live. With luck, Tommy will be around for another 50 years.
Calico is Growing
Calico Life Sciences is a devoted to the study of aging (and finding a cure for it, more or less). It’s owned by Alphabet, which also owns a little company called Google. And now Calico has renewed its partnership with The Broad Institute of MIT, and Harvard, to discover anti-aging drugs that will both keep Silicon Valley geniuses alive longer and make them richer. These avaricious technologists are motivated to conquer by their own mortality. What if the fact of their mortality instead motivated them to explore their unconscious consciousness?
This is Youth
Photo by Mike Lacey on Unsplash
Not sure, but I suspect the fountain of youth looks something like this.
Good weekend to you.
Stephen, photographed by Konstancja Maleszyńska