Saturday, February 4, 2012


Time marches on. The odometer of life's journey keeps clicking off the days and the weeks without our taking much notice, but at the end of the year, when the big number changes, we usually pause for a moment to consider what's been gained and what's been lost since the last New Year. Kids are delighted because being a year older confers more privileges; young adults look to the new year with the optimism that it will bring a new love or a better job or some unimagined opportunity. We older folk look upon the onset of another year with more nostalgia, and as much anxiety as optimism. Will this be the last one, or how many more do we have left? Is the world (the economy, the environment, the government) going to self-destruct? And will we be around to see it? Watching vulture capitalists and lunar colonialists participate in the circular firing squad of the US presidential primary campaign does nothing to alleviate the anxiety.

This January has been particularly loaded with reminders of time's passage. During the month I watched all ten NFL play-off games, several of which were decided by “sudden death overtime”. In reality, all the games were sudden death because all the losing teams were eliminated. Extinct! Next year there will be a Baltimore Ravens team wearing the same black and purple uniforms but it will be a different team, no matter how many current players and coaches return. The team that lost on that missed field goal is gone. We all cling to the the comforting fiction that there will be another chance, maybe next year. That team, along with thirty others, lost its chance.

The day before New Years Eve we went to the funeral of a village fixture, a 94 year-old woman who spent her last years shuffling around the piazza bestowing blessings upon anyone she encountered. The blessings came with questions such as “Do you like Acqualoreto?” although her impaired hearing precluded any possibility of her comprehending the reply. After four decades here, being a foreigner, I was still regularly posed the same question. It felt like she would be doing this forever.

January brought the news that the brightest kid in my high school class had died after a three year battle with Alzheimer's. I had a series of injections of Vitamin B-12 to correct a deficiency, which doctors suspect could risk leading to a similar outcome. When not visiting medical facilities for shots, tests or physical therapy ourselves, we've been visiting friends recovering in hospitals from largely self-induced ailments.

In one case, we've witnessed the decline and death of a long-time friend who was a regular at our Wednesday foreigners' Happy Hours. A witty and creative person with a wonderfully ironic sense of humor, she was also a fine and sensitive writer, a gourmet cook, a voracious reader, a cat lover, and an organizer of Christmas caroling expeditions, book exchanges and even Halloween celebrations. Best of all, she was one of the few regular readers of, and commentators on, this blog. Unfortunately, she also had a self-destructive side worthy of a rock star or a celebrity starlet. Linda abused alcohol with the best (or worst) of them. Our community, which has many ex-smokers but virtually no ex-drinkers, tends to be tolerant, even when occasionally concerned, regarding that particular vice. It was her unrelenting addition to nicotine that drove her friends away, intensified her solitude, and nudged her health into its downward spiral. In one of her last lucid days, she reminded the woman who had spent years caring for her that her organs were to be donated, to which the woman replied, “but Linda, your eyes, heart, liver and lungs don't even work for you any more. Who's going to take them, or what else is left to donate?” The decline apparently spun faster than she anticipated. Though her intentions seemed kind and generous when expressed in numerous conversations with her friends about her plans to donate her material assets as well as her organs to worthy causes, by the time her sister, her one surviving direct relative, arrived from the other side of the world to see her in the hospital, she was unable or unwilling to inform anyone where her instructions could be found in case the doctors' valiant efforts proved futile.

We've been trying to help her non-Italian-speaking sister and brother-in-law deal with logistical and bureaucratic matters for the past couple of weeks. They need all the help they can get and there is some satisfaction in helping people in such very difficult circumstances. But the inescapable thought arises that the Kafkaesque nightmare that they face could have been avoided. We have gained from this sad fiasco, one powerful lesson.

It's later than you think!

Thanks for the lesson Linda, as well as for all the parties, cookies, blog comments and general zaniness you've brightened our lives with. For the organizational example, not so much.