If I didn't know better, I'd swear that my lawn was dead: actual bits of green are conspicuous only because they stand out from the endless sea of brown, the not-entirely-unexpected product of a month of very high temperatures and very low rainfall. How low is "very low," you ask? At the peak of the Dust Bowl in 1936, total August rainfall was barely a sixth of an inch. The only reason we got that much in August 2010 was the arrival of "scattered showers" on the thirty-first, one of which was sufficient to trigger a Severe Thunderstorm Warning.

Still, this is what lawns do. Come March or April, there will be green again, which is good, and there will be mowing again, which, from my point of view anyway, is not so good. Some people say that grass itself objects to being mowed, and the smell of a freshly-mowed lawn is actually a distress signal. I figure, if the lawn can talk me out of mowing, the lawn also ought to be able to talk Zoning Code Enforcement out of giving me a ticket for not mowing.

If there seems to be just a hint of resentfulness here, maybe there is. I can't be entirely sure that the lawn will come back, but it was treated far worse than this the first year I was here, and it survived that nicely. When I'm gone, I won't be coming back. Period.

Of late, this fact has started to get on my nerves, most likely because I know I'm on the downhill part of the journey. (Unless I'm going to live to be 114 or more, which seems a tad unlikely.) If I'm sleeping, I'm probably having dreams, some of which might be memorable, but all of which will come to a halt once I wake up. But there's going to be a time when I don't wake up, and I find myself concerned as to what will be going through my head right before the moment when nothing will be going through my head — to say nothing of the moment right after.

This is, I am sure, a fairly normal reaction to a distinctly uncomfortable reality. If other vertebrates know that their days are numbered, they seldom let us know about it directly, though sometimes you can read it in their eyes very near the end. We'll forgive them for not knowing what's coming, but we likely won't forgive ourselves. I keep telling myself that at this age, I should have some kind of handle on the process.

At this point, faith is supposed to come into play. But my concern is not so much "What if I'm wrong?" as "How could I possibly have any idea what's supposed to happen?" Those who have crossed the bar do not, as a rule, conduct travelogues from beyond. And the next world, we are assured, is infinite, a word that makes a very confusing noise: it's trivial to construct an infinite series in mathematics, and some of them even have finite sums, but I can't persuade myself that this applies to anything more complex than numbers.

Then again, there are numbers which are defined as complex: they contain parts we consider "real" and parts we consider "imaginary." What makes them imaginary is not that they appeared on Bernie Madoff's tax return; what makes them imaginary is that we don't think we have any use for such things in real life. Just a construct, we tell ourselves, to make the theorems come out right. And then we are faced with three-phase alternating current. It's all essentially the same voltage, but you've added a component at an angle to it. All of a sudden, we have complexity.

So that's what I'm going to tell myself when it comes time to lie down for the last time: that I'm shifting phase. Don't bother to hook up the electrodes; I'd just as soon not know if I'm wrong. If God, as they say, is in the details, I shouldn't have to worry about it anyway.

The Vent

  1 September 2010

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