who has already told me that she finds my sporadic theme of human transience to be much less than comforting, I understand, Jen. Really I do. But surely you must have noticed by now, you and your brother both, that weird Dad finds comfort in odd places, and always has, and in that odd place in particular, the knowledge that we all come and go.
I don’t know why that’s so. Or perhaps I do — I think perhaps you do too, Jen — but prefer to leave it at that for now.
Anyway, I was reminded of the truth of this the other day. A song kept running through my head, a thing I had on vinyl once decades ago, a rousing but rather pathetic British Navy ditty recreated by a rowdy chorus of maritime music aficionados calling themselves the X-Seamen’s Institute. “The Life of a Leaf,” the song was…and its title is not in the least misleading in terms of its tone.
Here’s the chorus:
What’s the life of a man,
Is he more than a leaf?
A man has his season
So why should we grieve?
Although in this world
We appear bright and gay,
Like a leaf we must wither
And soon fade away.
Okay, yes, here I am abducted to Cancerland, and it is unsurprising that such a song should pop into my head. But listen: I wouldn’t have remembered it at all had it not resonated for me when first I heard it.
And when was that? Maybe forty years ago, when I was only a few years out of college, and was hale and hearty (hale, anyway; I don’t guess I was all that hearty at that age, having been a glum little bastard for a long time by then) with no business having intimations of mortality. But you know how old T.S.Eliot was when he jumped into Prufrock’s shriveled skin? When he wrote…
I grow old, I grow old.
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled….
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing for me.
Tom Eliot was all of twenty when he wrote that. Twenty! What afflicts some of us that we are so old so soon?
It was the second Dylan — the one who took his surname from the first’s given name — who sang, Ah but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.
I think that is true of me as well. I have been aging backward.
Jesus, what am I carrying on about? Here I am, still trying to understand, still trying to explain, to myself, and to you, of all people, who could at this point explain a great deal to me. I guess those of us who are explainers never can stop being that.
I was one already as a child, even then offering my elders perspective, offering them, in other words, something I did not actually have but only thought I did.
And here I am still doing the same thing….offering something I only think I have…perspective, understanding, a way to see that helps things make sense. It is a Cancerland delusion, I guess.
The words lead me on, is what must happen. They are my stock in trade, after all. Sometimes they obey me, but then sometimes I am forced to obey them.
Think of the words as having taken over for this brief spell.
They can do that in a waiting room, when the wait goes on too long.