A Crushing Sense of Futility

I’ve been waking the last few days crushed by a sense of futility.

“Welcome to my world,” said the skeleton of my father, from his grave at First Hebrew.  “Although, in my case, of course, that crushing sense is caused by a ton of soil and rocks on top of me these days.  It’s not easy to crawl up to the surface to bullshit with you every other day, you know.”  The skeleton gave either a wide smile or a broad grimace of agony.

“But, seriously, Elie, you know, most people in your position would have been waking that way every day for the past, oh, say, six or seven years.  If you don’t go to work, don’t have an income, don’t interact with people who appreciate your work, how long can you feel productive producing things that nobody ever sees, let alone pays you for?”

Yeah, obviously.  I’ll tell you something, though, and it took me years to develop this crucial ability.  I’ve rarely been troubled, lately, by the indifference of the overwhelmed.  Their lack of response has nothing to do with the quality of my work.   I feel productive every day as I sit here typing, refining, clarifying, or even drawing or playing music.   It’s like a mind/body thing — feeling as though you are tapping into your deeper potential every day just feels good.  Feels productive.   

“Well, lucky for you, then,’ said the skeleton.  “You know, the challenge to feel productive is the reason most people crave work, and a busy schedule, and why they book structured vacations, and religiously read their daily newspaper and so forth, to have that feeling of being productive while keeping a thousand demons at bay.  Not everybody, left to their own devices, has the inclination to be creative, or observe things closely, or ponder hazy connections, or express their fears and hopes, or whatever it is that seems to drive the people we formerly referred to as ‘artists’.”

I’m starting to be consumed by thoughts of death.

“Update your resume, toot sweet,” said the skeleton.

Our cat has lost a lot of weight, he’s in the final stages of chronic kidney disease.  He’s actually skinny now.  He has been retreating more and more, hiding in one of two new coffins he’s staked out, doesn’t come up on the bed to nuzzle Sekhnet as was his lifelong habit.  Yet he wants to live, keeps trying to eat, even when he just vomits afterwards.   

“That’s some heartbreaking shit, the steep decline of the Baron and the way he clings to life,” said the skeleton. “All the more so because you have friends who say, ‘fuck, it’s just a cat’.   Didn’t one of them urge you to put him down, so you could join them for a little holiday?”

Well, I guess this is one I won’t be reading aloud to Sekhnet…


While the cat is wasting away, and is generally too nauseated to even accept the bribe he demands after we stab him in the back with the needle from the kidney treatment bag every night, I have been pondering my own medical situation.  

“Look, Elie, none of this belongs in the Book of Irv (which I note you are now subtitling “First Do No Harm”– even contemplating the pretentious Primum non nocere) but I have to point out something that you no doubt realize.   You are in a tight spot, serious progressive kidney disease of unknown cause, treatable in 1/3 of patients, spontaneous remission in 1/3 (no clue if you’re still a candidate for that, no doctor has any idea, either) and kidney failure in 1/3.  You don’t necessarily have to like your odds.  But keep in mind, until that first chemo treatment you were regularly riding your bike 13 miles at a time and feeling much better each time you did.  It’s three months now with virtually no exercise, that’s got to take a psychological toll.   You have to give yourself a break.”

The trick is how you actually do that.  You know, I keep thinking, whenever I consider this non-lucrative disease I have, one that inspires no pharmaceutical research and therefore no funds for any kind of research, of those fucking geniuses in Florida that treated you as, unbeknownst to any of them, you were dying of liver cancer.

“Well, look, Elie, it’s two completely different situations.  You have a disease of unknown origin that corporate medicine treats as best it can, using the dartboard approach, knowing that 2/3 of patients are beyond the reach of their treatments anyway.  If all goes badly, you’ll just need a kidney transplant.  They’ve got millions of third world people looking to sell a kidney.  It’s only a matter of money to fix, even in the worst case scenario.   

“What I went through, not to compare, was a more than two year weekly rotation of doctor visits, cardiologist, hematologist, endocrinologist– none of whom had any clue I was dying of liver cancer, which is a completely different story.  Those cocksuckers could only have flourished in a place like Florida.  I had an appointment with Moomaswamy for the following Monday.   Unfortunately for me, I was in the hospital by then, with only two or three days left to live.  Had to cancel that appointment with the genius of cardiology.”

The skeleton grew quiet and neither of us broke the silence for a full minute.

“I was, obviously, not pleased to learn, six days before I died, that I had been dying of liver cancer for God only knows how long, but that’s life, Elie.  We are in the hands of motherfuckers, and, ultimately, in our own hands.”

True dat, we are ultimately in our own hands.  I was not able to learn this from you, except indirectly, but our own hands must be strong, and soft, and gentle.  The way you were able to reassure me and my sister when we were really shaken up demonstrated your capability.   It’s too bad you were never able to turn this ability toward holding your own life in a more merciful, life-sustaining way. 

“Yeah.  Like I said, that last night of my life, my life was over by the time I was two years old.”

Mom once told me she felt like life was a giant buffet, and everybody was filling their plates with all this delicious looking food, and she was standing there without a plate or a fork.   

“Her life, in many ways, was over by the time she was two,” said the skeleton.   

I have no idea where I get this feeling that I’m living at the bottom of a grave, in the words of Mr. Hendrix

“Funny,” said the skeleton, “especially considering who you’re talking to.” 

Humorous, I suppose, that I turn to an imaginary skeleton, the posthumously evolved spirt of my dead father, to try to cheer myself up on a day when I wake up crushed by a sense of futility.

“Nothing humorous about it,” said the skeleton, “it makes perfect sense.  Look, I’ll leave you with this thought: is there anybody you’ve ever met who you would change places with for a minute?”

You know the answer to that one.  

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