Hand Holding Humans
ⓒ christina starr
Xtra! April 24, 2002
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In my lofty experience, there are two events for which everything else stops: birth and death. My daughter, in utero when I was a magazine editor, ripened two weeks ahead of schedule. My tidy plan was to oversee final layout of the spring issue, guide it through printing and make a neat departure on maternity leave at the end of a publication cycle.
          Not so. In between contractions I managed to approve the layout, and that was all. My beautiful early bird slid into the world a few hours later and for the next few weeks I concerned myself with little more than tending to her. How my maternity replacement got hired and wended her way through the work on my desk, I don’t really know.
          About a month ago I was called to the emergency of Mount Sinai hospital in the small hours after midnight. My aunt, an independent woman in her seventies, had fallen, hit her head and, as the C.T. scan revealed, had a serious, possibly fatal injury in her brain. Once again every obligation and distraction in my life was swept aside, this time for the monitoring, care, and (too quickly) the bedside vigil of someone at the final exit of her life.
           Events like these reduce us to the basic elements of life, to its beginning and ending, to the reminder that life has a beginning and ending. Those of us in the middle passage easily forget this reality, especially in our busy, distracted, achievement oriented culture.
           Our daily lives are consumed by pursuits and distractions whose significance is swiftly lost in the face of an intervening life event. This doesn’t mean that all these pursuits are shallow, but I marvel at how easily the anxiety over things like being on time or showing up at all, meeting a deadline, landing a deal, getting a date, wearing the right clothes, pursuing an ambition, being out of the closet, pleasing your mother, appeasing your lover, etc, is entirely supplanted by the small necessity to hold someone’s hand and be human.
           As almost anyone will say after the loss of someone close, I didn’t spend enough time with my aunt before she died. Except right before she died – all night and all day when I wasn’t getting some rest myself. But with the creeping debility, awkward oxygen mask and interventions of nurses and doctors, it wasn’t the time to be niece and aunt together. And now I have no more time at all.
          Relationships between people, other than those that are sexual, are not frequently what we give our time and attention to. If television is any indication, we pride ourselves on the speed of our cars, the height of our buildings, the trend of our appearance, the comfort of our living spaces, the sophistication of our technology. Where (except in the sales pitches of Bell Canada) are the exhortations to honour and engage with others in our lives? And yet, when the sharp edge of life is facing us, either its new beginning or finite end, what else can hold significance?
          The gay community has certainly had its share of losses, reminders that life is a temporary, fleeting phenomenon. But how different would our culture, and our individual lives, be if we could keep this foremost in our minds? We wouldn’t stop doing everything we do, of course. Life in between birth and death has to have meaning and the things we do with our time is how we make sense out of being here.
          But there might be less of a rush. There might be more warm Good-Mornings and less dash to the office. There might be more parks and less concrete. There might be more laughter and more stories. There might be more walks and less fitness. There might be more hand-holding and a lot more humanity.

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Once again every obligation in my life was swept aside, this time for the bedside vigil of someone at the final exit of their life.