by LJ Frank
“Let me die.” He sighed. “It’s all lies.”
“What is?” The doctor asked, standing next to the bed.
“It’s all fuck. War. Politicians. The military-industrial complex. Money. In whose blood? Absurdity…” The wounded soldier’s voice faded in and out.
“This will relax you.” The doctor said as he directed a nurse to assist him.
“The room is spinning,” was his last utterance that day. The next day he was removed from the ward. I don’t what happened to him. Was he moved to another floor or a funeral home?
I can still hear their voices. So many years ago, sometimes it feels like yesterday. I worked part time in “the ward”, a lot of veterans with legs and arms missing, half faces, crooked lips and halting voices pleading to the doctors…to let them die. The solution at the time, another dose of morphine and whatever else would alleviate the physical and psychological pain. Ministers, priests, rabbis and others would come in and pray to their God. They appeared sincere.
“Look behind the sacred curtain,” a sailor mused. Whatever comforts you. Words make a person naked and vulnerable. Sometimes too naked and too vulnerable. Sometimes the words feel meaningless but…being there is not meaningless…breathe. Let me die conflicts with let me live – as a whole person.
“Oh my God, did you see that…that giant spider crawl across the ceiling.” It was a small spider with long legs. Whatever the species was, the morphine was kicking in with another patient.
“Please God!” Still, another voice in another bed cried out. His cracking husky voice spoke, “Come on soldier, be a man, die with dignity. Quit pissing in your pants. Yes sir!”
A few months later, I was exhausted. I was there to listen. I was a volunteer. In my mind I really wasn’t qualified to give last rites. Ordained or not, who is? But I did in one case. Death is a singular event for any of us even if we die in another’s arms or they are holding our hands. Resurrection, reincarnation, nirvana, oblivion…you choose the theater of comfort. Sadness can be soft and lingering or harsh and abrupt. Context.
War, violence, wounded, pain, love, hate, suffering, loathing, pleasure, nurturing, joy, healing. ambiguity, vertigo…emotions are not finite or don’t seem to be…all are colorful textures in the same painting of existence. And there was more.
Decades ago, I was in a motorcycle accident while living abroad. It was a rainy day. I collided with a taxi that emerged from a side street in a heavily trafficked downtown area. I was wearing a helmet. I ended up rolling off the taxi’s hood on to the pavement. An ambulance arrived. I have mixed feelings about ambulances. Then I was lying on a table like bed on wheels looking up at a ceiling.
“Am I alive?” I half seriously asked the person standing next to me as I laid there.
The person’s eyes smiled above the mask…patted my shoulder. Acupuncture was applied to parts of my body. It worked. I wanted to get the hell out of there. Miracle of needles in the right place. The downstream effect of head trauma was vertigo and vision issues. The vertigo became the silent clause in life. The soft lingering sadness. There were other complex names. My brain operates on the Occam’s razor principle. The simplest solution is probably the best. My cells have their encoded adaptive agenda.
The silent clause quietly seeped into my spiritual and social habits, and ancillary rituals. Vertigo has a noirish effect on life. That is, I felt at times like I was in a B rated black and white mystery film. One becomes engaged in a dizzying spiral and at times breaking out in a sweat yet drawn to it like butterfly to a fragrant flower or a bug to light. Another deep breath and all will be well. My intelligence quotient tested high for certain things. Other areas forget it. My personality and skill tests in college indicated I should be a foreign correspondent or professor of sorts. I belonged in a foreign port or on a college campus. Go figure.
When experiencing vertigo, you’re not in control. Forces outside you are hovering above and within. Van Gogh syndrome? I refuse to cut off an ear. When I watch or read the news, in a variety of newspapers and on cable television or the Internet, here and abroad I sense the world is experiencing a kind of vertigo – the spiral of violence or threat or perception of violence.
Intimidation is popular in all cultures and among all peoples in all classes. I recognize the seemingly unrecognizable…but the logic to the illogical still is unfathomable. There’s no seeming end to human volatility or compassion. But isn’t that how the universe began? It was explosive. The stardust was encoded. The irony is the volatile dust contained a cell for survival through compassion and empathy, or so it appears. Empathy and compassion are an adaptive response to living on a luxuriant rock spinning through space around a star.
My body is made up of cells. Look inside a cell. There’s a lot of action going on. Can our cells keep up with our technologies? Has technology outpaced human composure, morality, and empathy? I don’t have an answer. I do know what vertigo means and wonder if my cells can keep up? Will health technologies in the future allow us to regrow sight, hearing, and other organs? Stem cell?
I have come to define the Vertigo Clause in life as a physical disequilibrium affecting social and philosophical perspectives of a person or nation. It stipulates that vertigo is a built-in warning system that detects an internal malfunction and warns us to forego, as much as humanly possible, ill-suited acts.
A Buddhist perspective might suggest, “the truth will come to you in quiet while sitting and emptying your mind. Listen to the quiet. It will calm the imbalance.”