Hitting yourself in the face with a hammer


Originally uploaded by darkmatter.

Those wild and crazy people at WalkingTimeBomb.com have a whole host of ads aimed at college students who blithely assume (despite all the evidence to the contrary) that they’ll quit smoking after they graduate. Some of them are pretty strange and don’t make a lot of sense, but some are real winners:

Hitting yourself in the face with a hammer is not harmful as long as you only do it socially.

When I’m at the bar I like to smack myself in the face a few times with a good claw hammer. So what? Who am I hurting? Or the other day I was walking along with Joe and he pulled out a shiny ball-peen model. Man, we just went to town with that baby. But what of it? I don’t plan on being one of those life-long hammerers. I’ll just quit after I graduate by tapering off with some of those small rubber mallets.

Generally I’m a pretty libertarian kind of guy, and I rarely give students grief about their smoking even though they bloody well ought to know better. Going through this cancer fight with Dad, though, makes it tough not to run around shouting at students that I see smoking.

The problem is that the claim that smoking (or not wearing a seatbelt or a bicycle helmet or whatever) only hurts the fool is based on a sad and ultimately unacceptable assumption that there is and will be no love in that person’s world when the odds come for their due. To watch my mother hold Dad while he’s vomiting again in the middle of the night, to hear her voice break on the phone after spending another all-nighter with him at the hospital, all this shatters any arguments that the impact of these choices is limited.

We are people, and that has implications.

When my father started smoking in the early 40’s, there was no broad understanding of the horrible risks involved, and as that data became clearer the tobacco industry spent millions to confuse and obfuscate the issues. At some point when I was a kid (late 60’s, early 70’s) Dad became convinced and stopped cold, an action I have always admired.

Today’s students can’t claim ignorance, and I sure as hell hope they don’t plan on lonely, loveless lives. I know that I have higher aspirations for them…

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The pictures I’m not taking

I’ve tried to take at least some pictures while I’ve been here with my parents, both because I obsess that way, and because I want to record at least some aspects of this terribly important moment in all of our lives. I’m struck, though, by all the pictures that I didn’t (and won’t) take; images that I won’t forget soon, but which I’m not going to try to capture.

Some of it is just not very pleasant. Chemo makes him throw up (as it does many people). I’ve watched a fair bit of that while we’ve been here, although nothing close to what Mom’s helped him through, and these moments definitely fall in the “I wish I could pretend I hadn’t seen that” category. There are probably powerful images that could be made of this distress, and one could argue that going through this is a key part of the fight against the cancer and therefore worthy of documentation. But some other photographer will have to do that. It’s my dad, and I need to be giving him a hug and helping him wipe his face, not taking his picture.

Some of it is the sounds that still photography just doesn’t capture. Extreme discomfort can be a very noisesome beast, and there’s been plenty of that, with more to come. Harry Smith would probably tape the whole thing, but I’m passing on that as well.

Some of it I would love to capture, but just haven’t, and probably won’t, because it’s not easy and I’m only willing to go so far to record the moment. Mom stroking his forehead in the near dark, helping him calm down after a bad spell and encouraging him to go back to sleep. Her hand on his back; his hand in mine. Little glances; fleeting expressions; moments. In the end, the little signs of why we’re fighting this thing.

Sometimes you have to live, wading through the experience instead of recording it from the shore. I keep reminding myself that now is a good time to live.

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