You've been down too long in the midnight sea what's becoming of me?”
"You have a soul. Be careful with it."
Liberty Fractured Eternity
My grandfather leaned forward in his hospital bed and paused. The sound of hospital equipment filled the space around us. Evening light filtered through the West facing windows, as I noticed that half the room seemed dipped blue. The single light emanating from behind my grandfather’s bed cast his face in semi silhouette. He smiled and repeated his question.
“Do you remember dying?” his eyes were bright. “When you were a kid, remember?” I remembered an accident while climbing a neighbor’s fence. “You cut the whole inside of your forearm to hell. Doctor said that you’d severed arteries and veins alike. He didn’t expect you to live.” I remember some of that, though time memories and it’s mostly a haze of things that happened once upon a time.
His hospital bed was inclined but not enough that when he sat back, he could reach his water. I squatted forth from my chair and handed the oversized cup to him. His mouth was and saliva mottled in the corners of his lips.
“Papa, here…” I navigated the straw to . He drank slowly as to not trigger a fresh coughing spasm. I replaced the cup onto one of those nearly useless adjustable trays that you only find in hospitals. I pillow underneath his left shoulder and helped him to adjust his hips. He took a deep breath and exhaled easily, although I could hear the crackles deep within his lungs.
“Pa, pa, Po.” He smiled and cleared congestion in his chest. Years when I had been bullied in Jr High, my grandfather taught me a one two combination that ended with a right cross. I never got to use it not that I wanted to. When I saw my grandparents on Sundays He would take me outside and we’d practice; jab, jab, cross. Pa, pa Po! My grandmother observed a practice session and afterwards us with nicknames that would stick for a lifetime. No one outside my family calls me Po though.
“Dying...do you remember?” I didn’t. I knew what he was asking about. I still had the thick scar across my left wrist, but I couldn’t tell you much about that Summer from my childhood. Those days were decades ago and I’d be lying if I told him anything that would reassure him about my experience and an afterlife.
“Papa, mom will be back with some carry out dinner from that Greek place in half an hour. Let’s see if Roseanne is on still.” I stood from my chair and began to rummage through the piles that accrue in hospital rooms for the tv remote.
“Is it Tuesday?” Grandfather asked. The television was placed on a shelf that I couldn’t reach and the bulky remote wasn’t anywhere to be found. I replied and acknowledged that it was Tuesday, but that I couldn’t find the remote and couldn’t reach the tv
“I read an article in the National Enquirer once. They said Roseanne met with aliens.” My grandfather explained.
I returned to my seat and slumped against the uncomfortable back of the chair. “Your mother probably put the remote in her purse.”
“She does things like that.” he shrugged.
The slow beep and intermittent chirp of the room became silicone and aluminum crickets in the dark around us. Night had fallen and an electric yellow rose from the streets below. From my seat I watched bright red taillights scoot through a gas station and then back into the flow of traffic in the street. The diesel rumble of a city bus caught my grandfather’s ear.
“Do you have a soul?” That’s what that guy asked me on the bus in nineteen fifty-two. What a weird question to ask someone on the bus.” I knew this the guy was quoting Plato.
“... the soul is the 1)” Grandfather reached forth into empty space, his eyes and mouth wide, consuming memories. He composed himself as he sat back. “Don’t quote me though, the guy was paraphrasing Socrates. I cleared my throat before speaking. “I thought the Market Revolution of nineteenth century America defined the 2)”
My grandfather taught history for thirty-five years and could easily be goaded into a debate about the Western free market vs. Communism. His love of American culture and his identity as a Hungarian-Jewish immigrant provided a unique perspective for him to view the world from. He often preached that American culture, “frees man from men.” That perspective guided me as I grew up and influenced me to study Civics and Economics in
“You know, I read an article once about a survey among atheists that asked if they believed in the soul.” Grandfather shifter his hips and licked his lips. Maybe I shouldn't have antagonized him with communists. “Fifty-seven 3) of them reported believing in the soul. Can you believe that? Those ass-” he corrected himself to a whisper. “Those asshole reds don’t even understand their own laws. Chemical atheist the lot of them.” He shifted his weight and his green-blue hospital gown pulled against his knee which tugged at his collar, exposing his thin collarbone and rectangular adhesives which attached as umbilicus to an EKG machine.
“Papa…” He finished dismissing the thought of hypocritical atheists with a backhand wave. The disgust he was feeling took a moment longer to uncurl from his upper lip.
A nurse entered the room to chart vital signs. My grandfather took the inspection personally and grumbled his displeasure.
“My wife saw a Chinese doctor in the late sixties for a rheumatoid problem. The guy stuck needles in her legs. You poke me with needles?” (4) To distract him from the RN I asked about the man from the bus in nineteen fifty-two. I remember him telling this story to my father at the kitchen table years before dad left. It was one of the only times I’d seen them get along without being forced into civility by their wives. “Wasn’t the guy from the bus a redhead?” I asked.
“Yeah. Intense guy. Going to give a science speech or something which is why I thought it was strange that he was talking about religious stuff like the soul. I don’t know, maybe he was dying too.” The inclusive too hung in the air. He quoted the ginger again.
“You don’t have a soul, you are your own soul.” I think he was quoting Aristotle that time though, but it’s been ages since I read the Classics so don’t quote me. The nurse had finished addressing her concerns and reminded us that visiting hour will be over in an hour. I thought of my Grecian chicken and chicken lemon rice soup. I didn’t want to have to rush eating my dinner. I was thinking that I would just save it and reheat it in the oven when we got home when my grandfather interrupted my daydreaming.
“I guess that idea of the soul always stuck with me. My mother’s religion didn’t satisfy my question and neither did your grandmother’s Christianity. The soul still belonged to someone else… Ronny the Red, his name was Ron or Ronald! I'd forgotten that, yeah. Your father made some crack about the bus guy acting like a Viking when I told him that story. Yeah, Red Ron.”
He trailed off mumbling and thinking of nineteen fifty-two. “...Ron el, el Ron?”
I wanted to offer some words of comfort, but this isn't anything me and my friends usually sit around debating. I've thought more about my than my afterlife. I accepted that I had a soul because of God or whatever, my grandmother educated us about religion and stuff like that. I never had to think about it; what she taught we believed.
My grandfather looked off into the inky darkness outside the hospital window. I felt at a loss, nothing I could say would comfort him.
“So according to the scientist on the bus and Plato; it's your soul that qualifies you as an individual? Nothing else? Not my likes or dreams for my future or anything else that I might say defines me?” He smiled at me.
“I remember thinking that I forgot to pick up cheese at the deli and that your grandmother was going to have my head and threaten me with a terrible lunch for the following workday.” Grandfather chuckled a bit and smiled.
“Grandma’s cheese of choice could contribute to her individuality.” I scoffed at mine own joke, but grandfather was half lost in a world of memories.
“...she loved cheese, you're right.” He smiled apologetically and looked deep into the darkness outside.
“Papa…” I was suddenly interrupted.
“He knew about the cheese!” My grandfather almost shot up out of his bed as he exclaimed. “I'd forgotten all about that until just now, I can't believe I forgot the cheese…”
“Papa what are you talking about?” I quickly scooted my chair closer to his bed and made sure the railing was locked into place. I needed him to calm down before mom returned.
“The redhead, Ron, knew about the cheese! He asked if I remembered the sharp. I couldn't believe it, it was so casual, but that's when I started listening to what he was saying. He couldn't have known, but he did…”
I reached across grandfather and fumbled for his water. As he was trying to sit up more in his bed, I was attempting to corral him into a resting position.
“Papa, mom is almost back and she's going to be upset that you're not resting.” I offered him the water and guided the straw for him. As he could hardly wait to speak after drinking, water spurted from the straw and landed across my nose and brow. I squinted against the water dripping into my eyes.
“Papa, I thought Socrates said the soul is consciousness and that all knowledge is remembered5) He wasn't listening. He was stuck somewhere between nineteen fifty-two and the present.
“I remember what he said after the cheese; ‘the his body or his name...his mind, or anything else...the individual’” Grandfather lay back in his bed. His lips were thin and his brow heavy. He was mumbling to himself.
“...this whole time…” I didn't want to pursue a line of questioning and risk his becoming more agitated.
“Where is that darn remote?” I stood and turned to the dark room just as I noticed my mother’s silhouette in the doorway. I could smell the food and moved to help her with the plastic and paper bags.
“Mom, do you know where the remote is?”
My mother entered the room and handed me two plastic bags stuffed with containers and a paper bag with plastic dinnerware and napkins. She leaned over her father and kissed his forehead.
“Dad, are you resting?” The question was loaded. My grandfather looked to his daughter with gravity.
“Hey, Hun.” His blue eyes followed her as she began to tuck in his blankets and sheets. He seemed as if he hadn't seen her in some time.
“Dad? You okay?”
“Yes.” He swallowed against something and began to speak before allowing himself to be silent.
I couldn't bear the weight of silence and began to vocally savor my chicken lemon rice soup.
“Papa was telling me about the time he forgot the grandma’s cheese and ended up meeting Plato on the bus ride home.”
“I thought it was Aristotle.” She smiled at me. “Dad? Which was it Aristotle or Plato?”
My grandfather rubbed his hands together slowly and forced a small cough.
“Socrates, but he was a redhead and a scientist I believe.” He seemed almost sheepish. He rubbed his hands together and inhaled. My mother had noticed and was softly moving in for the kill.
“Dad?” Mom smiled and leaned against the bed railing. My eyes darted around the room for a moment, over myself and my steaming soup, before settling on the wall clock. Less than a quarter the hour remained for visitation.
“The ” Pretending to not notice her attempt to dismiss her, my mother casually guessed the clock.
“Oh.” He looked to his lap and fumbled with his fingers.
“Mom I should start taking these bags to the car. We'll have to eat at home, the nurse was already in here about the end of visiting hours.” I paced myself collecting the bags and my things as to not seem in too much of a rush, but I was looking forward to getting outside and getting some night air.
I set my luggage into a table and leaned over the beds railing to hug and kiss my grandfather.
“I love you Papa.”
“I love you too buddy.” I didn't look at my mother. I was doing a decent job of choking back tears and didn't want to ruin that. I called back to her after I swept the bags together and had exitied the room.
“I'll meet you outside.”
(, L. R. (1972). : The modern science of mental health. Los Angeles: American Saint Hill Organization.
(CH;9 pg.338.” Give Me : an American History, by Eric , pp. 338–339.
(. “Do Atheists Believe They Have a Soul?” Debate.org, 7 Dec. 2013, www.debate.org/opinions/do-atheists-believe-they-have-a-soul.
(, Elizabeth. “What Are the Hun & Po in Taoism or Chinese Medicine?” , 7 May 2013, www.thoughtco.com/hun-and-po-in-taoism-and-chinese-medicine-3182553.
(. “Phaedo.” Plato - Oxford University Press, Oxford University, 1 Apr. 2018, global.oup.com/academic/product/phaedo-9780198720492.
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