“Life is Fleeting, and Yet Rich…”

Dr. Bruno Morawetz was a wonderful man. I don’t think anyone who knew him would disagree. A professor of Philosophy at University of Toronto and Trent in Peterborough, I knew him primarily as one of father’s best friends, as a camp director of a boy’s camp which was the highlight of my childhood, and I suspect, my son’s as well.

When I think of my moral development as a child, it is his persona that immediately comes to mind as a role model.

But as much as I felt that he, and his wife, Gwen, were like second parents to me, that feeling was something that we all shared, all of us ‘campers’, all of their ‘campers’. ‘Ponackians’, I guess. Camp Ponacka. (www.ponacka.com)

In evidence, at his funeral almost two decades ago, the church was standing room only with a secondary room downstairs absolutely full. It was amazing, and struggling through the receiving line to pay respects to his family took forever.

There is a wonderful bitter sweet phrase that he wrote, which I have referred to many times in many contexts, and lives with me almost every day. It is a mantra; it is a measuring stick; it is a sign post in the mud of a new construction toward which many should strive, and many who knew Bruno do. It has more meaning for me than perhaps any other single set of words, and it is appropriate that it should appear in my first book.

So, as an enticement to you to read the book (blatant advertising!), I shall set it up below and give you the pertinent pages here. This is a spoiler, in a sense, because to me, if you read this passage, you probably get the whole point of the book that I wanted to get across, quite apart from it being an entertaining (I hope) exploration of science fiction, speculative medicine and physics, and minor metaphor for racism, and perhaps gratuitous diatribe against the evil bits of organized religion.

Dr. Garth is the hero, or one of the heroes in the book anyway, a doctor of course, who is treating his patient in the Ortho Burn Unit inside Trojan: Hollow Moon of Jupiter (hence the book title, by the way, available at Smashwords among others…blatant advertising). He is assigned the patient ‘Dicky’ Richard Fletcher, who is a dreadfully injured street person, drug addict, failed father of a young drug addict herself who has recently died, failed priest, full of self-loathing and guilt, and who is a key connection for the authorities into the large drug gang run by his notorious brother. Dicky, with burns to eighty percent of his body, with multiple internal injuries and fractures, is suspended in the weightless environment of the Ortho Burn unit inside this hollow moon. The phrase of Dr. Morawetz that I love so much is obvious in the context:

“Anyway,” Garth continued, “these films were taken on arrival. You had a number of rib fractures, and a compression fracture of one of your vertebras…let me see if I can find that.” Garth waved his hands again, and the images swirled by. “Oh, there’s your arm,” Garth said, showing on axial CT images the fracture of his humerus, angulated and displaced as it was while he was still in Charity. “Ouch. Good thing you were asleep.”

Dicky raised the pinned arm, still with external hardware stabilizing the two pins to one another.

“Those should be able to come out shortly. I’ll have to check my notes.”

“Tara said next Tuesday.” Dicky said.

“Probably right. There. Burst fracture of the T12 vertebra. See that?” Garth asked, with an air of excessive amazement, and pleasure, as far as Dicky was concerned. “Notice how none of the retro-pulsed pieces enter the spinal canal?”

Dicky turned and glared at Garth. Garth returned his glare, with the hint of a smile. “Well, in fact, none are retro-pulsed, really. Everything went every which way but back, thank God.” Dicky continued his glare. “The pieces didn’t hit the spinal cord.” Dicky kept glaring. “You didn’t get paralyzed from the waist down. That’s good, right.”

“Thanks.”

“Not me. I didn’t do anything,” Garth said. “You’re the one carrying ace around like it was water. I just put the pieces back together…well, I guess it was O’Hara, actually…and I’m just showing you what a great job we did.”

“Glad you’re proud of your work.” Dicky replied.

“Hey, we aim to please.” Garth turned back to the screen images. “See the fluid here,” he said, swiftly moving the screen shots down to the abdomen. “See that grey area around the liver?”

“That’s the liver?” Dicky asked.

“No, that’s the stomach. There, that large organ. There’s a lot of fluid around the liver. No sign of cirrhosis, so likely acute. You’ve been a relatively good boy, I guess.

“We had to transfuse you a bit, so the blood must have gone somewhere, and there wasn’t a lot externally, oddly enough. This fluid is probably blood, but you were stable enough, we just watched you and transfused you up, and waited, and it worked. The bleeding must have stopped. Whatever it was.”

“Whatever it was?” Dicky asked. “Pretty cavalier about that, aren’t you? It’s my abdomen, after all. What the hell was bleeding?”

“Who knows. Rib puncture through the diaphragm, retroperitoneal contusion…laceration of the liver was our biggest worry, but it wasn’t likely that. And you didn’t get any worse.”

“Wasn’t likely?” Dicky asked. His voice was a little plaintive.

“Hmm. You survived, so wasn’t likely that.”

“Oh great. Any diagnoses about which you are a little more sure, Doctor Garth?”

“You complaining, Richard? We saved your god-damn life. What do you want?”

The silence was dense. Dicky stared back at Garth with eyes that glistened. He bit his lip, scrunching up his face, trying not to break down. But he couldn’t stop, and before Garth knew what he had done, his patient was in tears. Garth waited, feeling a bit foolish, but knowing this was an entry point.

“Life is fleeting, and yet rich…is that what you said?” Garth asked softly, after a time.

Dicky looked up at the axial image of his own abdomen, showing the fluid, the liver, the stomach bubble, and the spleen on the other side. His vision blurred with his own tears. “The trouble with no gravity—tears don’t clear the same way.”

“You’ve noticed. Before today.”

“Oh yes.” Dicky sniffed a bit. He reached up with his left hand and wiped some of the tears away. “It’s a mantra, I guess. I’ve tried, you know. To live by it. It’s a measuring stick, really. I mean, how do you measure a human life?” Dicky’s composure improved as he talked about the phrase.

“What’s the whole thing, again?” Garth asked.

“It was written by a man who was like a father to me. He was a camp director. A boy’s camp I went to as a kid. Earthside.”

“There’s a sadness to it.” Garth said, probing a bit.

“Oh my yes. He was—heartbroken. Four of his young counselors. They died one night driving back to the camp. The car they were driving went over the edge of the road, into the lake. All four died. The camp was stricken. The director was shattered. You can imagine. He loved those boys. He’d known them all since they were young campers themselves. They’d had a night off, you know, blow off steam, I guess.”

“Alcohol?” Garth asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. Before drugs either, really.” A blackness overtook Dicky for a moment. There was silence for some time.

“What was the whole thing, again?” Garth asked.

Dicky turned to look at Garth, and then looked back at the ceiling and recited the words after a sigh. “Life is fleeting and yet rich, for those who open their eyes to the beauty of nature around them, their ears to the voice of God, and their hearts to their fellow men and women.” They were quiet for a while, and then Dicky continued. “Well, he actually ended it at ‘men’, but I’m sure now he wouldn’t mind the change. He was not a chauvinist, but it was the times, you know. He was no worse, that’s for sure. Indeed, he was a wonderful man who wanted to help children in difficulty.”

Garth grunted slightly. “So, what does it mean?” He really meant, ‘What do you think it means’, but Dicky didn’t catch that.

“Well, you know. First, we don’t have a lot of time on this earth—well, in Trojan, I guess—you know. So we better make what we can of it. We live our three score and ten, some of maybe four score and ten, but we’re dead for billions and billions. It’s such a tiny fraction of the whole. Make it worth it. Make it count.” Dicky sniffed again, obviously recovering from a bit of an emotional moment.

“And yet rich,” Dicky continued. “Life is good, he was saying, even though he was in great pain at the time. He was almost certainly thinking of killing himself, I expect. Maybe he was trying to convince himself. But, more likely he was trying comfort others.”

“Really? Was he a priest?”

“No. Just a truly decent man. Probably the best I’ve ever known.”

“Not a priest, then.” Garth was smiling when Dicky looked over. “Like you.”

“No, perhaps not,” Dicky chuckled. “I was never a priest. He was saying, as well, that life is good if you learn about it, if you open yours eyes. If you study it, investigate it. If you just drift, well, not so much. But if you study the world, and learn about it, about science and literature and history and art and, well, everything. If you apply yourself, it’s good, he was saying.

“Life is fleeting and yet rich for those who open their eyes to the beauty of nature around them…like, if you don’t open your eyes to the beauty…if you just see the unseemliness, the filth, the dirt…if you just see people like my brother. So he wrote, not just ‘to nature,’ but ‘to the beauty of nature.’ Well, you see the difference? You have to open your eyes to the beauty. He thought of every word, you know?” Dicky’s eyes teared up again. He reached out with his right hand, and grasped Garth’s left arm.

“He did. He thought of every word.” Dicky paused, and breathed deeply. “Their ears to the voice of God…he wasn’t religious, you know?”

“He sure sounds religious,” Garth answered.

“No. I knew him. He wasn’t, wasn’t really.”

“Voice of God? What is that, if not religious?” Garth asked.

“You know that voice inside your head that tells you when you’ve messed up. We all have it, you know?”

Garth nodded, pondering this.

“That’s what he meant by the ‘voice of God.’ That voice inside your head that tells you not to do something. That code of behavior that you have. That way of dealing with everybody. That way of saying ‘this is right and this is wrong,’ you know?” Dicky was asking.

“You sure that’s what he meant, Richard. Or is that what you mean.”

“Well, that is the wonder of it, isn’t it?” Dicky answered swiftly. “It’s like the Rorschach test, a projective test, really. It’s what you think it is, and that says a lot about you.”

Garth nodded gently.

“But no matter what, you gotta have a code of behavior, good or bad, you can’t go through life with nothing.”

“Thing is, Richard, yours is actually pretty damn good,” Garth said. “No. We don’t all have it. Maybe two to three percent don’t have that voice.”

“And in others, it’s weak, you know, men in power can overwhelm it.” Dicky said.

“‘As soon as one faculty of your soul has been dominated, other faculties will follow as well.’” Garth was quoting, but Dicky appeared to know.

“Indeed. That is the nature of the evil of religion. That is at the heart of darkness of religion. It caters to mystical thinking, and promotes it as a necessity. You gotta have faith.” Dicky said. “Who was that, what you just said? It sounds familiar.”

“Voltaire.”

“Ah, you’re not just a pretty face. A doctor who reads philosophy. But he also said, ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.’”

“Well, I doubt that. He actually said, ‘Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer.’” Garth smiled. “I’m Canadian.”

“All Canadians know Voltaire?” Dicky asked, visibly perplexed, or mocking the statement at least.

“No. It’s just—Voltaire was French. He didn’t speak English.”

“Smart ass.” Dicky sighed heavily. “Actually, he spoke English, French of course, Italian, Spanish. He lived in England for several years.”

“Oh, you got me. Though this was probably originally in French.”

Dicky nodded. “But the best is the last, for you especially, I should think.”

“How so?” Garth asked.

“Life is fleeting and yet rich…for those who open their hearts to their fellow men…and women.” Dicky looked over at Garth. “You enrich your life by opening your heart to others. You enrich your life.” He emphasized the word ‘your.’ “Not theirs. Yours. You know this. You enrich your life by what you do.”

Garth caught his breath. He looked back at Dicky in some wonder.

“You enrich your life, Dr. Garth, by opening your heart to others, by helping others, by risking and sharing pain with others, for others. You enrich your own life by doing the things you do as a doctor.

“I’m not enriching my life, Dr. Garth. Not now. Not with what I am doing, what I was doing.” Dicky’s tears were in full force now. His voice was choking with expression, and competing with his emotions. “I was trying to kill my ______ brother. Brother. My brother.” His voice was louder, his thoughts were amplifying and crushing his emotional and vocal balance. “Brother. My own ______ brother. That’s not life enriching, Dr. Garth.”

The pain and agony were obvious, and Garth could do nothing more than to reach over and touch his patient, in one of the few areas where he had no grafts, the right hand. There was a heavy silence in the room again. A gentle whirring of the ventilation system persisted in the background, but they could hear the noises of a creaking chair rolling over a plastic floor, off in the distance, from the nursing station down the hall. Garth heard Dicky’s breathing gradually settle.

“Come on, Dicky.” Garth tried to overcome his patient’s tears. “Your brother, he is a bit of a ____.”

“He’s murdered people. Not just my daughter.” A sob, a little louder than any other, erupted from Dicky’s airways, and in the silence that followed, they both heard the gentle creaking of the chair against plastic cease for a few seconds, and then recommence in the silence that followed as Dicky held his breath.

“He murdered Ian,” Dicky whispered. “Repeatedly. With an ice pick. Over and over.” Dicky’s cries broke through, competing with the repeated phrase, “Over and over.” He said it louder, over and over.

If you want the rest of the book, Trojan: Hollow Moon of Jupiter, go to Smashwords and look me up, or go to

https://smashwords.com/books/view/573319.

Well, there you are. I have cleansed the passage a bit…after all, this is a public site, and you really have to pay to read my profanity. In the end the key message is clear. You enrich your life by studying it, by listening to your code of behavior, and by opening your heart to others.

I just don’t know of a better measuring stick by which to judge a human life.

Advertisements

One thought on ““Life is Fleeting, and Yet Rich…”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s