Monday, April 25, 2011

"When the young grow old they die."

Harold writes ten emails a day, though none of them are original, just stuff he sweeps from the Internet, investment opportunities in "Brooklyn Bridges Inc," "Retirement Homes in Ivory Coast" "Cut-rate Sex-Change Operations in Singapore," and such stuff. Today, just in passing, he wrote me a personal note in response to something I sent him, he mentioning that he goes tomorrow for more chemo-therapy and radiation treatments.

Harold writes that he's been in the hospital since the end of January, having been out for seven days during all that time, and has lung cancer. Lung cancer doesn't surprise me. He smokes cigarettes that exterminators must use to kill cockroaches. What surprises me is that my friend is seriously ill. It happens. People get sick, and old people, which I guess Harold must be now, is sick. I never think of him that way. I think of him as a young guy full of life and wildness and far-flung hopes for the future.

Childe Harold.

My friend Harold, almost a Byronic hero. "Childe Harold":

The work provided the first example of the Byronic hero.[5] The idea of the Byronic hero is one that consists of many different characteristics. The hero must have a rather high level of intelligence and perception as well as be able to easily adapt to new situations and use cunning to his own gain. It is clear from this description that this hero is well educated and by extension is rather sophisticated in his style. Aside from the obvious charm and attractiveness that this automatically creates, he struggles with his integrity, being prone to mood swings or bipolar tendencies. Generally, the hero has a disrespect for any figure of authority, thus creating the image of the Byronic hero as an exile or an outcast. The hero also has a tendency to be arrogant and cynical, indulging in self-destructive behaviour which leads to the need to seduce women. Although his sexual attraction through being mysterious is rather helpful, this sexual attraction often gets the hero into trouble.

I used to see Harold every evening for a couple of years. I looked forward to that. I'd do business at an up-scale diner in the Central Business District here, and Harold would hold court and shuffle business my way. I made lots of money and had a good time at it. We'd planned a deal in the Caribbean that was, to put it mildly, pretty crazy. That was normal then. Eventually Harold ended up in Central America and I split for Africa. There was nothing we couldn't do back then.

Yet Time, who changes all, had altered him
In soul and aspect as in age; years steal
Fire from the mind as vigour from the limb;
And life's enchanted cup but sparkles near the brim.

George Lord Byron,"Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
(Canto III, St. 8)

Harold has been in the hospital for the past three months, avoiding my emails suggesting we go out for coffee. Instead, he responds with weird stuff about doing crazy things to get rich quick. Well, I guess that now there isn't a lot of time left to get rich any more. Still, I have a lot of value from knowing him. The money always comes and goes, but the life, going too, remains somewhere, if only here.

I'm left thinking about young people looking at old people. Getting old is not a character flaw, as some seem to think. It is not an aesthetic failure. It is not a social mis-step. It is what happens when people live a long time. Eventually, living a long time requires that one pay a price for it, that being death. It's not personal. It seems so to me, most often, but it's just the way of things. People get old. It's not a bad thing. In many ways one might wish to be born old and live longer. One might learn that too late.

No comments: