Ben Camino's Ironic Near Death Meditation:
The After Math
A year ago yesterday, I felt like dying.
A year ago today, the universe slapped me and told me to quit being so dramatic. Good luck with that, universe.
At around midnight (that's the 28th or 29th depending on how 'round midnight we are talking, and I really don't know), I was involved in an hellacious (no spell check, not fallacious or salacious!) automobile accident on Interstate 69, at mile marker 263. A real wreck as they say.
I was, in fact, leaving a lovely performance of Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker by Taylor University students and just starting on what I thought was my 45 minute drive home. Drives home, it turns out, can be long and painful. I should have known that already because I'd had a few, but not like this. Now that truth is etched in in my skeleton and in my consciousness (waking and sleeping).
A year later, now, I'm still surprised to be alive. Still grateful. Sad. Angry. Stressed out. Shocked. Hungry (but eating a Greek salad as I write). Still curious. Still ironic. Still meditating. Still alive. Still in love with ideas, poetry, and the people who hatch both.
I've written a lot of poems since then. A lot of songs. A lot of ironic meditations. And lots of laments. But none about that night and its aftermath. Until now.
Aftermath is an interesting word. isn't it? If you think I'm going to "look up" what it "means," you don't know Ben Camino very well, but I will forgive you for that. Don't be upset. It might very well be a cause for celebration that you don't know me well.
Anyway, or anyways as several people I love mistakenly* say, aftermath seems to suggests that the time for calculation is over. We are now in the time after math. In other words, it's too late to figure this out. Too late to solve for X. You should have thought critically about driving down I-69 in your sweet red Versa hatchback (a inexpensive little thing, but my inexpensive little thing, and a machine to which I had grown strangely attached) before, but it's too late now. You should have thought about a lot of things before you wrecked everything, but it's too late now.
That makes some sense, doesn't it? Why did it happen? Why am I still here? What do I do with the feelings that occasionally overwhelm me as I relive that moment? How do we account for the huge popularity of The Purpose Driven Life? OK, I just always wanted to ask that last question. One answer to all the questions is to quit asking. Too many question marks don't work here in this post-wreck analysis any more than they do in a freshman essay.
If you squint your brain though (weird image, but I like it), after math might suggest something like "the calculation we do in the after time." The exact opposite of the other meaning. It is the math done in the time after (and since everything that has ever happened is past, there is a lot of this kind of work to be done). This baffling ability of a word to mean its opposite provided careers for Jacques Derrida and Lewis Carroll. And, perhaps, Ben Camino. Time will tell, but only if definition #2 is correct.
Whichever, whatever, however, this is my aftermath. It just took a while to start counting. First I had to hurt. Hurt really really bad. Then I had to learn to turn my torso in bed. And anywhere else for that matter. Then to drive. Or, rather, to feel safe behind a wheel (which I now know can crush me even as it protects me).
Maybe after doing all the after math, I will realize that the first "definition" (sorry for those who actually believe in that word) is right. That all this really is uncountable and unaccountable. And yet. And yet. Maybe that's precisely the only safe human highway home in this dark ditch of a world. To count it all up anyway in hopes of squaring the circular mystery of meaning, bracketing, as we so often do, our dread that, ultimately, it really won't add up to something we can do anything about. Except maybe write songs and prosepoems howling about it. But what if calculation is necessary for being human even if it's futile (at worst) or ambiguous (at best)? What if all it leaves you with is a good song? Or a psalm? Or a poem? Or a howl? Or an ironic meditation? That depends, I suppose, on whether we think such things have any value. And on what value means, but I can't go down that path right now.
Whatever else happened that night/morning, it felt like death. Fast death. Well, OK, I don't know what dying actually feels like. But now I do know what suddenly thinking that you are dying feels like. One moment, there was a semi in front of me. Then it switched lanes. Then I thought I was going to die. And yes, as you may have heard somewhere, your life flashes in front of you. Not your lived live, though. At least not mine. Not my past so much. It was more like my presentfuture (which I run together because to me in that moment they were indistinguishable) flashed through me. I just know that I wanted desperately to tell four or five people that I love(d) them, that I would give anything to share a little more time and space with them, and that I was sorry that I wasn't going to be around to dance at their weddings and play with their children. Or just read poetry with them.
Questionable things happen in this questionable world. That night, this truth hit me right in the face. Well, more precisely, right in the chest. Having never crushed my sternum before, I thought I was having a fatal heart attack. I had some experience with angina from blocked arteries, so I have had bad chest pain before. My mind processed this experience as a more intense version of what I had experienced before. Scientifically speaking, as really really bad chest pain.
It hurt soooo much. But the pain wasn't the problem at that point (hope you got my C. S. Lewis reference). Physical pain was the problem later, after I was pretty sure, ironically, that I was going to live. In the immediate wreck time, though, I experienced that intense pain primarily as a sign of imminent death. And, although I've always been afraid of dying, at that moment, the fear of death was much more the premature (it turns out) missing of those I really really was not ready to miss.
Again, dear reader, you don't know Ben Camino very well if you think he is going to draw a neat lesson from all of this. Nothing is neat. Have you seen my hair? My office?
A sloppy lesson, yes. You can depend upon that. One that is gashed and dripping and porous but possibly good for singing and dancing, as long as you are a bad dancer. I have no clear lesson to draw from my experience except a lesson I really didn't need the experience to teach me. That is that there are wonderful people in this world who will save you (or at least try to save you) when you are dying, when you think you are dying, or when you just feel like dying. Or even when you just need a ride or some almond milk.
Sometimes you have to reach out. I don't do it well. I don't think I did it particularly well a year ago. But I did call some people for help because I needed help. And there were a handful of people (and many more waiting in the wings if I would have needed them) who just blasted me with goodness. Visited me in the hospital. Came to pick me up. Drove me around because I couldn't drive. Provided a house close to campus so I could get back to work (and just be around people who cared) without having to drive or, even after I could, without having to make my long now-traumatic drive home every night. People who bought me and brought me groceries. Hell, people who mailed me groceries and supplied me meals from across the continent. People who covered my classes. And . . . . sorry if I left you out. Because all of you unnamed people and the goodness you embody will be what I'm thinking about the next time I think I'm dying, which I hope isn't soon. Who would want to leave a life with such people as you in it?
So, Ben Camino, I hear my concerned reader say, you really did learn a lesson after all? And I respond, not exactly, I'm not sure I have. At least not from the accident. These people were already these people before the wreck. These people have always been willing to reach out. And, further, I'm not sure I will have learned the lesson until I become one of them. But more than that, I'm not sure it's the experience that taught me this. I think it's just as likely that it's the counting, the accounting, the account, the pastpresentfuture rendering of everything at once from the perspective of what I really mean when I say I'm afraid of dying (which turns out to be losing other people). That's the after math I literally need more than I can say (Hope you liked that one folks, because it's got some layers).
And so, as usual, the ironic meditation itself becomes the hero of a Ben Camino ironic meditation. Who would have guessed? OK, not you Edwin and Jennifer. You didn't guess, you knew.
The truth that everyone knows and almost nobody admits is that true writing is really really hard work, especially when you realize that honesty and vulnerability are the two greatest fictional characters in non-fiction. Saying truth through that hellacious problem is like sticking the Olympic dive with the highest degree of difficulty, like a reverse somersault in pike position (Wait. Do divers stick their dives? Or is that just gymnasts?) Anyway(s), it's more difficult than getting a dark brew at Starbucks after noon anymore.
It's as hard as living forever so you can dance at all the weddings and play with all the babies and say hello and goodbye and I love you to all the people and buy them groceries and deliver them to the house their other friend provided while they are getting over having their hearts broken or their chests broken or whatever else gets broken down here in this dark ditch of world, lit sometimes only but brilliantly by love in the aftermath.
*an intentionally ambiguous modification