Our senses perceive no extreme. Too much sound deafens us; too much light dazzles us; too great distance or proximity hinders our view. . . . We feel neither extreme heat nor extreme cold. Excessive qualities are prejudicial to us and not perceptible by the senses; we do not feel but suffer them. . . . Extreme youth and extreme age hinder the mind, as also too much and too little education. In short, extremes are for us as though they were not, and we are not within their notice. They escape us, and we them. (Pascal)
In his late eighties, my grandfather’s neck bone sprouted a spur that pressed against his throat.
Imagine it, to be slowly choked to death by your own spine!
It got to where he could barely swallow & all his meals had to be pureed – “like baby food,” he groused.
He had already lost almost all sense of taste; only very sweet and very salty foods had any appeal.
Eating now became onerous, with only the promise of mealtime sociability with the other residents of the old folks’ home to hold his interest.
He grew light as a bird.
Even so, a portion of every mouthful – a drop or two, perhaps – blocked by the bony growth, trickled down his windpipe.
And as Pascal observed, “a drop of water suffices to kill a man.”
He contracted pneumonia.
Starved for oxygen, his brain fed him lies.
Fear found expression in hatred.
The coma was a mercy.
Children and grandchildren filled the small hospital room to overflowing.
He lay with eyes shut & mouth agape below the beak of a nose, one tube in his left arm & another in his urethra, his skeletal frame naked under the bed sheet.
As the night wore on, the gaps between the slight movements of his chest grew longer and longer.
Finally, when several minutes had elapsed, someone felt for a pulse: no hint of motion.
Then a great sigh that caught in a dozen throats, a gasping sob.
As vision blurred we embraced & embraced, baffled to find each other so unfamiliar, ourselves so strange.