The Right Coast

January 01, 2005
By Tom Smith

Sometimes things just stun you into silence.

Here is an interesting blog coming from India. (via instapundit.)

It makes me think of Auden's truthful poem, Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

And we all have our places to get to. Two little near disasters stick in my mind. They were part of the worst day of my life in recent history, even though it turned out well, so perhaps it wasn't so bad. I had flown up to Salt Lake City, where my dad was hospitalized after a mysterious fainting episode. The University of Utah medical center was like a scene out of the movie Independence Day, or Lourdes, in the winter. People had driven their RV's and pickups from all over Utah, northern Nevada, southern Idaho, anywhere within hundreds of miles, bringing in their seriously sick loved ones. The hospital was packed, and my gravely ill father was sitting in a waiting room, waiting for a room to open up. My younger brother, who is now a federal judge, somehow managed to convince an administrator to give him a room. Finally the doctors decided he had an atypical lymphoma, which was not good news. While I was digesting the unwelcome news that my father had a not at all benign form of cancer, the temperature in Salt Lake fell to a bitter something below zero, and my wife called me frantically to tell me I had to come home to San Diego right away, as she had to immediately take our then baby William to the hospital, as she said he had gone into respiratory distress. Unlike me, my lovely physician wife Jeanne is hard to rattle; indeed one of the reasons I married her was her cool in facing things like grizzly bears in Alaska. If she said it was an emergency, it truly was. My brother in law rushed me to the airport at high speed, Delta airlines in those pre 9-11 days rushed me through security and onto a plane to San Diego. I met up with Jeanne eventually in an isolation ward at Children's Hospital, where they had placed William, thinking he had RSV. Oh, yes, and it was the Christmas season. So we sat there in our little glass box, a respirator mask over our baby's face, while some brownies or something came by on the other side of the glass wall and sang "We wish you a Merry Christmas!" I know they meant well, but it somehow just increased my feeling of horror at the situation. And this leads to the point of this happy little memory. When bad things are happening, you have this feeling of unreality, like this can't really be happening, certainly not while brownies are singing to you in your little glass chamber. In the end, it turned out William was having some sort of asthma attack; they sucked out his sinuses with a little vacuum cleaner, put him on an inhaler for a while, and he was fine. My dad came down to San Diego and went through some intensive chemotherapy, and is still going, though now more than seven years later, and at 86, he is frail.

Except that the happy ending is missing, I think that's what it must be like to realize you really are going to drown in big wave on your vacation in Thailand. You must feel disbelief, terror, and loneliness, kind of, wait a damn minute, I'm on vacation! The New York Times published a heartbreaking picture on their front page Friday. It doesn't look like much at first, but then you realize the mom in the bikini must be running the wrong way in order to aid her family, perhaps the dad pulling his child along. All of them are probably dead now.

Meanwhile, the world gets on with its lives. I, for example, have a lot of exams to grade.