Legacy of Shadows

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 3 September 2016

03:32 this morning, awakened by both body and mind…

It took me 3 hours to fall asleep again, while I lay on the lawn chair on our balcony, looking up at the stars until dawn, thinking about life and death.

In the six years I have lived in Switzerland I have experienced new life and life´s end on four separate occasions.

My wife`s friend from Munich brought her newborn baby daughter to our apartment for the Christmas holidays and I was voluntarily conscripted into holding baby Pia and singing to her to help her fall asleep.

There are no adequate words to describe how it felt to hold a baby in my arms for the very first time and to smell that unique aroma that a baby´s skin produces and to hold someone who is simultaneously incredibly self-reliant and totally helpless.

I have never been a father nor had I ever been around babies, but somehow I sensed how to hold a baby´s head and body and knew what tone to make the only song I knew at that moment, “Edelweiss” as rendered by the movie The Sound of Music.

Mere weeks ago I found my heart singing once again in celebration of life and had the opportunity to hold Dionysus (English spelling), the newborn son of my Macedonian friends, briefly in my arms.

I rarely envy others, but I envy those blessed with children, for though children can be troublesome and demanding, they are also wonderful and delightful.

For a child nurtures the adult inside us – our need to be responsible and consider more than ourselves, while at the same time a child allows us to rediscover our own child within ourselves – seeing the world through new eyes and emotions.

Life is truly a miracle.

But life perhaps cannot be fully appreciated without its opposite also ever present in the world, death.

Two men I had known, both well into their senior years, are now no more.

Both men had appeared, at least with me, to be friendly and warm and compassionate.

Both men before their demise had dementia and were considered a burden upon their spouses and families.

My wife and I are rarely in agreement on anything, but we both share a distaste for ending our days in this manner.

As much as I would like to end my days at a ripe old ancient age, I hope that I leave this vale of tears with my mental faculties and most of my physical faculties intact.

I do not wish to return to the helpless state of an infant: unable to comprehend, unable to feed or clothe myself, unable to deal with my own waste without assistance, or worse –  unable to breathe without the aid of a machine.

That is not a life I wish to endure.

That is not a death deserved of dignity.

What strikes me most about these aforementioned men is how they are last remembered – helpless, difficult, emotionally and physically demanding on others, with even their personalities transformed into unpleasantly dark doppelgängers…

And for all that they were, and all that they had accomplished, now forgotten by they themselves and by those that loved them, this is a fate most cruel.

As unfair as it feels to write the following words, it is very human for people to forget all the good deeds that came before the bad ones.

The recent loss of my wife´s uncle and two years ago the loss of my landlady´s husband has left me saddened.

These men, I once knew as friendly, warm and welcoming, had in their last few months deteriorated in mind as well as in body, becoming darker versions of themselves, more of a curse to others than a blessing.

It is this aspect of aging that happens to some that I find intensely unfair and cruel.

There is no one to blame…no one to feel anger towards…

It is as it is…a situation beyond control, which may be the fate of myself one day or the fate of other people I love.

Life ends.

Health diminishes…mental or physical…sometimes both.

We are all victims of chance and circumstance.

The only thing I feel right now and the only message I wish to convey is…

Let the ones you love know how you feel…while you still can.

To my friends and family, near and far, whatever differences they may be between us, let me say from the bottom of my heart, you are loved.

Your life has meaning.





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