Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On A Bright August Day

On A Bright August Day © Marge Griswold-Scheiding

Gertie sighed, folded the newspaper whose contents had inpired the sigh, and threw it into the wastebasket in the corner of the kitchen. It never ceased to amaze her how human beings could be so cavalier with their lives and those of others; between murders, aggravated assaults, and wars, it seemed to her that human ingenuity peaked in those instances. There were so many ways to hurt people, particularly nameless strangers, and it seemed to her that more money spent on saving lives, rather than taking them in the cleverest of ways, was a situation not likely to happen in her lifetime.

Her gaze lifted to a framed photo montage on the wall opposite where she sat and rested on her favourite image of herself, back in the 70's, love beads around her neck and colorful peasant costume hanging on her then-lanky frame. Her hair was long, full, and braided back then, her eyes clear and bright, and her outlook one of hopeful optimism. My, she thought, how times have changed since then...

Hers had been a dream of changing the world and a part of her had never abandoned the dream entirely, but life experience had taught her over the years that things are what they are and would most likely never change. The sit-ins and letter-writing campaigns of her youth had netted only self-serving lip service from authority figures, and contempt from others who simply didn't understand. Still, she'd persisted like the bumblebee in flight, unaware that laws of physics insisted that such flight is impossible.

For a moment her mind wandered back to other times, other hopes, and she again strolled New York City's Central Park in the company of other flower children. The music was great then, at one wise and wacky, and the lyrics throbbed with both condemnation and rampant optimism.

For a moment, The Beatles' "all you need is love" echoed in her ears and she shook her head at the once-beautiful notion. Life amongst both strangers and loved ones had not borne those words true; love was never enough. As she'd grown older and jaded by repeated disappointment, it occurred to her that love--and the hope and expectations of love--resolved nothing and created more turmoil than contentment. Lennon and McCartney couldn't have fallen farther from the essential truth of life.

The loud noise of an explosion of some sort outdoors snapped her attention back into the present and she glanced down at her arms, dimpled and scarred with old needle tracks, not from illicit drugs, but pharmaceutical agents intended to prolong her cancer-buggered life. She'd read somewhere that long-standing negativity could cause human illness; perhaps it was true.

The chemo's progress had been slow and, for a time, appeared to be doing its work, but a relapse of symptoms declared that other forces were at work in her biological universe. When the unfortunate proclamation was stated that she had weeks, perhaps months, of life remaining, she resolved to face it with the same stubborn stoicism which had allowed her to survive this long.

"Miracles happen,"one well-meaning friend had declared.

"New therapies are always in the works,"offered another, and Gertie had never had the heart to disagree, but simply smiled and whispered grateful words.

The day before, she'd made a decision, one which had hidden in the back of her mind for decades, inspired by a photograph she'd seen in Life Magazine back when she was still young and able to appreciate its poignancy. A Tibetan monk, clad in the saffron-yellow robes of his discipline, sat, head bowed as his body was consumed by flames, the black smoke billowing around him and heavenward, rising amid the crackles and sparks of a thousand prayers for peace.

At her elbow sat a cigarette lighter, a old lover's Zippo, no longer shiny, its case tarnished and scuffed from years of use, the flint newly replaced and the fuel reservoir full. She'd fished out from the dark recesses of her closet a billowy flowered dress she'd worn during a peaceful demonstration against the Viet Nam conflict, and smoothed its soft fabric over her chemo-bloated arms; the gauzy fabric still felt soft and smelled ever-so-faintly of patchouli. She'd taken a stand that day years ago and spent six hours in jail as a result, but had made a few friends with whom she'd remained in contact to this day, and it was with their support she'd made the decision which faced her.

Her hand reached for and grasped the pen on the kitchen table before her, the other pulled a sheet of stationery near and she began to write:

"Dear Mr. President..."

The words poured forth like so many butterflies in migration, wings fluttering, colors bright orange and red against azure summer skies. The words sang hope and peace, intoned grim admonitions, and offered encouragement on behalf of a troubled planet. On and on she wrote, until four sheets of paper were inscribed on both sides with handwriting measured and elegant. They were the words of a woman who had nothing to lose any longer. Once finished, she read the letter, blinked back the last of the tears left inside her, and tore it asunder.

Picking up the Zippo, Gertie stood, pressed the plunger on the pain-medication dispenser for one last numbing dose, disconnected herself from the pump, and stepped out into the bright August day for her date with destiny.