Stupid Question, Stupid Answer

“Would you rather lose all of your old memories, or never be able to make new ones? Why?”

Although I have heard it said that there are no stupid questions, I believe this question proves conclusively that there are stupid questions because this is a genuine card-carrying stupid question. To compound the idiocy, someone spent the time to formulate the question proving that someone has way too much time on his or her hands. Then they took the time to ask me write about it.

I am baffled. I had no problem figuring out my answer but I was and continue to be puzzled by why anyone would ask the question in the first place and furthermore, what in the world anyone might think they would learn from my answer. Is there some conceivable illumination or knowledge to be gained? If there is, I can’t see it. Ask a stupid question, you get a stupid answer.

© Mula Eshet/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis
© Mula Eshet/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis

Lately, there seems to be an world-wide epidemic of stupid going around. Perhaps this is yet one more symptom of this disease that is claiming victims faster than the plague ever did. So, in the spirit of comradely stupidity, I have formulated an appropriate non-answer.

This question reminds me of the saying: “It’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.” This is something that people say when whatever just happened is nominally better than nothing. It presupposes that under some circumstance, someone — like me, say — might find myself in a situation in which a poke in the eye with a sharp stick would be preferable to something else. Really? Ya’ think?

Well, on initial examination, I feel obliged to point out there are very few things I can imagine that are not better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. What might be worse? Prolonged torture? Evisceration? Mutilation with hot knives? Being starved to death in a dark, dank dungeon? The rack? Burning at the stake? How about being eaten slowly by rats?

So, back to the original question: Would I prefer to lose all my memories — otherwise known as my identity and self — or be brain-dead?

Come to think of it, I’ll take that poke in the eye now. Make sure the stick is really sharp, okay?

Let me know if anyone finds this response enlightening. And why.

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Strawberry Jam in Springtime

I was 46 years old when my homemade strawberry preserves jelled properly. Probably what broke the barrier was overcoming a longstanding aversion to putting sufficient sugar in the mix. Alternatively, I could have solved the problem by adding tapioca starch or pectin, but I’m a a bit of a food snob. I wanted my preserves made of just fruit and sugar.

The day the preserves came out perfectly was the day my first husband finally died. He had been dying for a long time. It was a Friday, a rare brilliant spring day in New England. Jeff had been sick for almost a year, in what we politely called a coma, but which was actually a vegetative state. Now gone. I had not come to terms with it though I’d certainly had plenty of time. Probably no amount of time would have been enough.

Other than Jeff’s dying, it was a good time. Garry and I were happy. We were good together, busy with career and friends. Yet there was that underlying sadness we could not avoid, the knowledge that a death was near at hand.  Happiness and sadness don’t cancel one another. The good things are not a balance against pain. Feelings aren’t an equation. You can’t add columns of positive and negatives in your life and come up with a number in the middle. In the real world, joy and misery cohabit. We live with both together. Emotions are messy.

My head was a wheel of memories, a slide show carousel. Faces, places, good years, bad. Bittersweet, sad, joyous, funny. Strawberry jam that never jelled.

I married Jeffrey at 18 and thought myself very mature. He was almost 30, but he thought me very mature too. Both of us were wrong.  Yet we muddled through. We were hard triers. When we had no idea what to do, we faked it.  Eventually, we became the people we had long pretended to be and it turned out, not the people we needed to be for each other.

Though we went in different directions, we stayed friends. No matter where on Earth I was, I knew Jeffrey was there for me. We had a better divorce than most marriages. Decades passed. Jeff’s health deteriorated. He survived things that should have killed him, so what a shock he should die of the thing that was to extend his life. The heart surgery should have given him years, decades.  When Sue called late on an August evening reality upended and everything screeched to a halt.  No, his body wasn’t dead, but his brain was. The future world would be without Jeff. I would never call to tell him something funny that happened, hear his  sarcastic, drawling response.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Someone rewrote the script when our backs were turned.

Fall passed and winter too. Jeff remained in a vegetative state. Someone who looked just like him was wearing his body and that shell remained alive through the seasons. We visited. I stayed for weeks to help care for him. Finally, as spring was nearly summer, the piper played. And now, the ashes were scattered.

Just the other day, Garry glimpsed a someone in a crowd who looked just like Jeff.