Rendered Fat Content


Roger Fenton:
The Valley of the Shadow of Death (1855)

"Stories never end."

The Old Wives insisted that deaths arrive in threes. I remember this notion being considered fact from my earliest recollections. I remember it proving true, too, which seemed even more disconcerting, for it was one thing to presume and quite another to experience confirmation. After my great-grandmother died when I was twelve, I dreaded another funeral for weeks after that event. These days, I've matured enough to recognize the fundamentally random distribution of such events and how my parsing can make unrelated events seem causally associated. I remain wary. When one drops, I anticipate a follow-on. When that occurs—notice how I didn't use the descriptor 'if'—I always expect a third and am rarely disappointed, though successfully anticipating departures doesn't qualify as a win. "There it goes again," I mumble to myself. Whoever posited that third time's a charm was not paying close enough attention.

I wrote this week about losing my dear friend TheAngelClair.
I have not mentioned losing my cousin Marlene earlier this month after her thirteen-year battle with cancer. I realized when I heard that TheAngelClair represented 'two,' I cringed in recognition of that now ancient bit of Old Wife Wisdom. News of the third came just three days later when Rich, my old friend of thirty years learned that his cancer had regressed into untreatable, and he was released to hospice. He'd received his diagnosis late last year just as The Muse seemed to be fully recovering from hers. He and his lovely wife, Elizabeth, acknowledged the diagnosis as wholly unexpected and as something he, too, would likely quickly dispatch. We played along, knowing full well, as they did, that there's never any knowing when it comes to a cancer diagnosis. They're insidious! Nobody knows. One just agrees to treatment and takes their chances. It was, after all, unlikely that any of us was ever born in the first place and simply inevitable that we would one day die. Few get to choose the timing of their demise or want to.

When people leave this plain, no obvious holes remain behind. Society seems almost seamlessly to stitch over whatever hole might have been left. It turns out that nobody—not one of us—was ever genuinely irreplaceable. Nonetheless, we are each one-of-a-kind. Nobody had seen anything like us until we reared our ugly heads. This variety might be so common few of us ever notice it. We remain necessary until we aren't. We were essential until we weren't. We were all irreplaceable, but that might have always been beside any point. There are infinite ways to write the history of our time. If I'm not the author, another will appear. I sometimes wonder what I thought it ever meant to be here or to be anywhere, to be. 'Not to be' never was a question, let alone 'the' question. We seem to be, while simultaneously not being, too, leaving a difference without all that much distinction. We might become most prominent as we depart, more as legend than we ever managed as mere flesh and blood.

I'm starting to feel lonely out here on the end of my isthmus. I know I'm not an island. I always felt most defined by my associates, of which I've enjoyed many and varied uncommonly rich ones. I've always felt more comfortable touting my colleagues' accomplishments than mine. I have been blessed with these presences, which have been evaporating at a seemingly increasing rate over recent years. They have been turning into legends, into history stories drawn from before times, before now, some, even before there and then. When, in the course of anyone's existence, their isthmus starts feeling more like an island, a valley seems to emerge. I've described this valley as "The Valley Of The Shadow Of" or "ValleyOfThe" for short. I need not mention Death at the end of either characterization because it's understood and need not be explicitly stated to leave its mark.

I wish my fellows well, as I would wish to be well thought of when my time comes. The time that comes seems paradoxical, for the time that comes seems more like the end of time than any arrival. The countdown clock stops ticking. The accumulated mileage reaches its zenith. Time, which supposedly rules this unseemly realm, will have ceased significance then. We will become timeless and thereby meaningless except as characters in some stories our associates might remember from before there and then. Then, others might pick up the thread and continue spreading, but the time that seemed so essential and so damned fundamental will have lost all its former meaning. We will have each taken all the time allotted and traded it in for stories. Stories never end.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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