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comfort words

Recently, I watched Wit and Before Night Falls, both were particularly moving. Each had their protagonists fall from grace into the darkness of death, but as they were falling it was cushioned by someone reading to them.

In the former film, the protagonist, Professor Vivian Bearing (Emma Thompson) is in the fourth stage of ovarian cancer ("there is no fifth stage") and has just been sedated with morphine in the last scene when her graduate school advisor stops by unexpectedly. It has been 30 years since the last time they had seen one another.

To comfort her, her former advisor, E.M. Ashford (Eileen Atkins) suggests a recital of Dunne's poetry, the very words that Bearing has devoted her life to, and in the end realizes how inhumane her pedantry has been, so that she barely utters "No" to her mentor.

It so happens that Dr. Ashford is visiting her grandson in NYC (from London) for his fifth birthday, and thus this surprise visit to her former pupil-turned-professor. Hence, she pulls from her bag of goodies for the boy, the story of "The Runaway Rabbit" and begins to read to Bearing who takes enough solace in this matronly account to close her eyes into the wake of fate.

Before Night Falls ends on a similar page with Reinaldo Arenas (portrayed by Javier Bardem) being read an excerpt of a poem he wrote about his childhood by his lover before he suffocates him with a bag that reads "I Love (Heart) New York." It is an act of euthanasia to save Arenas from further despair and suffering, from what apparently is the wrath of AIDS.

The cinematic motif of being consoled with words read to someone on their deathbed is new to me. Surely, it has been used before, but I cannot immediately recall any such theatrical scenes.

The idea of literary consolation actually helped me realize the worth of my own writing. Sometimes I think "Why? Why am I writing?" and moreover, why do I even bother sharing such words with the poor souls who are subject to my meandering. Well, I now know. Well, maybe. But even within this uncertainty, my epiphany remains comforting.

For the answer is comfort. Like homemade food, we can consume words for sedating or invigorating spiritual nourishment. Thus, it is consoling to believe in my delusion and imagine that a reader might take a small bit of solace in what I have to offer.

Maybe the magic of my words is as simple as being able to reflect certain universal feelings, or to project some sort of promise, the promise of being promising, of being a comfort to readers. Subsequently, I am consoled myself, believing that my own epistolary journey might one day become a book which evokes similar emotions in others.

And so, I realize my words may be meaningful after all. And that should someone be read a passage of my words someday, that they might equally serve a worthwhile purpose, carrying someone serenely into the night or onto that ultimate state of slumber.




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