July 10, 2003 (Ira Pilgrim)


It is an illusion to think that there is anything fragile about the life of the earth; surely this is the toughest membrane imaginable in the universe, opaque to probability, impermeable to death.

Lewis Thomas, 1974

I am in a large city, standing near a metal stand of sorts, with telephone books chained to it. I am trying to find the address of my father's store. Someone points it out in the phone book: "There it is: Pilgrim's." The address is on 20th street. That is where I am now and across the street is my father's store. I enter. The store is much larger and neater than any store that my father ever had. There are a few customers. I walk up to him and say, smiling, "Mister,...." He recognizes me and smiles the smile that I remember from many years ago as one of great happiness. I am happy too. We hug each other. I wake up.

I hold on to the image of my smiling father as I perform my morning ablutions. I have a copy of Lewis Thomas' book The Lives of a Cell. I read the first essay and it points the way to what I am writing now.

The back of my left hand itches. I look at it and it is swollen. Some time during the night a mosquito had drunk my blood. Today, if it can find its way out of my well-screened house, it might find some water and lay its eggs that will hatch into larvae and eventually into more mosquitoes. Most probably, it will die in the house. If I can help it to die, I will.

My father died 30 years ago, yet there he was alive and smiling inside my brain. The image of him is as alive as it was more than half a century ago. My father never told me that he loved me; he didn't have to. That smile said it all. Compared to that smile, words seem so trivial.

My wife has been gone all week. She will return tomorrow. This morning I cut an orange and make a pot of coffee to have with a piece of rye toast. Were she here, she would do that. It is her morning gesture of love.

Lewis's essay points to the connectedness of all things in our world; connected in time as well as in reality. Life goes farther back than anyone can know. Solitary me is connected to both the past and the future. In some small way, this thought takes some of the sting out of being old and the specter of impending death. Just as my father is alive in my brain, my genes and who I am will live on in my children and the young people to whom I am connected. True, it will not last for long, but it is part of an infinitely long chain that goes both forward and backward in time.

The sun is shining and it feels good to be alive.

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