The Hess Report


Friday, March 11, 2005

Getting Older 

To me, the evidence is clear that we do not age at a set rate. It occurs in fits and starts, and mostly during rough times. That's why everyone in pictures from the 1930's looks like they're eighty years old even though they're still in grade school. Of course it could be that no one smiled for pictures back then, and everyone wore the modern equivalent of burlap sacks, but nah. I'm right. They had a hard time of it, and it shows on their faces.

The last couple of weeks at our house have been kind of tough: lots of people being sick, disasters at work, and really bad news around the neighborhood. On the sickness front, we're dealing with things that may end up being chronic illnesses, as well as stuff from the girls that gives you the shudders. One of the worst things a parent can experience, short of their child's death, is having to watch your child writhe in pain, crying, begging you for nothing more than a drink of water, and you can only tell them that No, they can't have water, it'll make it worse, and that all you can do is to wait until the pain stops, hours later. The only thing I can think of that's worse in an analogous way is having to do that and knowing that your kid will never get better but will in instead, die in that same pain.

Over the last two weeks, we read in the local news and heard from friends close to the case that an eight year old girl from one of the schools in our district contracted a rare and fatal form of viral pneumonia, possibly due to an overuse/misuse of antibiotics. One day she was fine. The next, viral pneumonia. Two weeks later, she was dead. Joy read her obituary in the paper last Friday. Now, that's not what was happening to Maddie the other night, but when you're sitting there, and she's moaning and crying, you can't help but think about that other family and the utter bafflement and dread they must have felt.

Now I know that there are lots of people who have it rougher than me. No shit. People with families who know they're about to be kicked out of their home. The people we see when we take Maddie to Children's Hospital for a checkup who push their poor, dying, children around in wheelchairs. Mothers in Rwanda who carried their babies on their backs as they fled two steps ahead of machete-wielding maniacs. The thousands of Iraqis who had to watch as Saddam's thugs tortured their children on the floors of their own living rooms. Yeah, I know that my life is easier, smoother and less painful than 99.99% of the people that have ever lived on this planet. Got it.

But when you hurt, you hurt. Period. That's why I won't denigrate anyone else's suffering, no matter how insignificant it may seem to me. To a certain extent, suffering is relative, and while some people are in need of a healthy dose of perspective, a personal disaster is a personal disaster, and it's not for me to judge the magnitude by my own scale.

Anyway, my point is that I feel about ten years older than I did last month. Thirty days from now, the sun will be out, it'll almost be tax day (or Buy-A-Gun day, in which we are encouraged to remind the government, by way of mass purchase of firearms, that their confiscation of our hard-earned resources had damn well better be for a good reason), everyone in our house will be relatively healthy, and things will look better. And I'll feel younger again, but not, I suspect, a full ten years younger. I have a feeling that one or two of those years I earned in the last few weeks are going to stick around.

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