Sunday, August 19, 2012

And When the Sky was Opened

A very old woman ran into me at the market today, slammed me in the butt with her cart. She started to cry, and her daughter (about my age) swooped in to rescue her... and I realized that she was what we used to call 'senile'. I guess the acceptable term is now Alzheimer's, that catch-all diagnosis for when the mind goes. I patted her, assured her it was okay. But I was alarmed, because in her distress, I could see myself and what awaits us all.

Buddha told us to meditate on death, and I have.

I once realized the abject terror in the old Twilight Zone episode, "And When the Sky Was Opened" -- was based on the fact that it mirrored our own experience and terror of death. In the show (written by Rod Serling and adapted from a short story by fantasy-genius Richard Matheson), three men come back from a flight into space, and begin to disappear, one by one. The title of Matheson's original story was, fittingly, Disappearing Act.

On the day of their return, the newspaper headline reads "Three Spacemen Return from Crash: All Alive" and then, after a strange chain of events, there are only two. But... there have always been two. The newspaper headline has changed, and now announces: Two Spacemen have returned. It is as if the third astronaut never existed. The two astronauts remaining start to panic, as everyone around them insists, no, there were only two of them, not three. Never three.

At the end, it is James Hutton (father of Timothy) who is the last astronaut left, looking for his suddenly-missing friend, the second astronaut. He then sees the newspaper headline, which now says only ONE astronaut has returned. The expression on his face has remained with me all of my life, ever since seeing this particular Twilight Zone episode as a child. And when I Googled the image, there it was (see above). Obviously, I wasn't the only one.

He knows he is next.

And the show ends with an empty room. None of them have returned from the flight. The camera pans to where their aircraft was. It is gone, too.

My grandmother died in 2004 and my mother died in 2006; it was when my mother died that I realized, I was up next. Maybe not for awhile, one hopes, but up nonetheless. It was no longer a far-away thing that happened to the old people... I was now the old people.

And so it was today, when I saw the old woman in the store, crying and confused. I saw that it was not simply her confusion that made her cry, although it was that, too... it was that she was afraid. I saw James Hutton all over her face. And then, I saw myself.

As I comforted her, I hoped someone would do the same for me.


Speaking of which, a sweet voice of my childhood is gone. Let us take a moment to remember Scott McKenzie, who recorded John Phillips' folkie-pop hippie anthem, "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)".

I remember being in San Francisco, hearing the song and feeling oddly displaced, because of course the San Francisco I had moved to was not the one in the song, although it had always inspired me. I had moved to Kool and The Gang era San Francisco, the end of the disco era. I remember falling asleep under an open window and starry sky in Oakland and hearing it there too, thinking how odd it was that the song had helped make San Francisco too expensive for people like me to live in. For this reason, it made me sad to hear it, one of the first feelings of aging that I ever remember experiencing.

I came home from the market, and my experience of the woman running into me and weeping, to hear that McKenzie had passed.

It was the perfect ending to a day I had started with an extended meditation on death.


San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair) - Scott McKenzie

In this video of McKenzie performing the song at the Monterey Pop Festival, you see Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Mama Cass... again, the perfect ending to my daily meditation...


D. said...

Oh, damn. I hadn't heard; I only just fell across the news about William Windom, who used to be in everything.

I guess I gotta think about this, huh?

John Powers said...

I always seem to come across as so contrary, and I don't mean to be. I'm glad you take me with a grain of salt.

Per your previous post which connects a bit with this one I was moved by a piece in June 17th Salon by Fred Branfman When Chomsky Wept.

Branfman has been highly influenced by Dr. Fred Firestone's ideas about psychology. He has a Web site Truly Alive Facing Death in the Prime of Life.

einny said...

Well, death is unavoidable. So we should all learn to live life to the fullest while we are still alive.

sheila said...

I just LOVED this Daisy! Very reflective, and a great piece to meditate on!!!!!!! Beautiful :)

(and ironically I do remember that episode too!)

LarryE said...

And another part of my youth drops away....

Just as an addendum to the Scott McKenzie vid: I would swear that the person Janis was talking to was Paul Kantner, bass player for Jefferson Airplane.

LarryE said...

Oh, and re John Powers and the linked article: It's funny how certain things just connect to each other. I saw the name Fred Branfman and immediately thought "secret air war on Laos."

So much of the history of that time still needs to be written.

JoJo said...

Sooooo sad to hear Scott McKenzie is gone!! :( I love that song, it was one of my 'SF or Bust' anthems in the late 80s when I was focused on moving there.