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Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Proper Role of Fiction

The graveyard at St. Mary's Church was closed to burials in 1880,
so Alf Wight (James Herriot) couldn't have been buried
in Thirsk, even if he had desired it.

I was watching the TV show “Sanford And Son” when my father died.

My father had slipped into a coma several months previously.  One day, when my mother was with him, but I was staying with my grandparents, he awakened for a few hours.  As far as my mother could tell, he seemed his old self.  She asked him questions and he answered.  He asked her questions, and seemed to understand her replies.  But then he drifted off again, and never reawakened. 

I suppose everyone else expected his death, but when you’re young, you think of yourself (and those you love) as immortal.  The hospital became my home away from home in the last year or so of his life.  He came and left and returned, was transferred from one hospital to another, and vacillated between intensive care and ordinary rooms.  My mother and I slept on waiting room couches, grew accustomed to eating in the cafeteria, and spent all the time we could sitting by his bed, talking or watching TV with him, or reading.  Then, one day, he slipped into that final coma, and I never spoke with him again.

I remember a little about my father’s taste in TV shows.  For example, I remember he watched some of my favorite programs, such as “Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” with me.  He liked Westerns, such as “Gunsmoke,” “The Virginian,” and “The Big Valley,” and because he enjoyed them, I also found value in them.  But for some reason I forget, he disliked the comedy “Sanford And Son.”  This bothers me, as I was watching that show in the hospital room when his breathing, a body function so regular and ceaseless that I never really thought about it, abruptly stopped.

The doctors and nurses had told me that even though he was comatose, he was still, to some extent, conscious.  They said that sometimes coma patients woke up and recalled things they had heard, or remembered a person being with them, talking to them, or holding their hand.  I tried to interact with him in this manner.  When his eyes locked onto me, a part of me felt like he was really there, even if he couldn’t respond.  Yet another part of me found the whole situation eerie, unreal, and pointless.  I didn’t remember what people had said or done while I slept, did I?

I’m not sure why I watched “Sanford And Son” that evening.  I know I enjoyed the show, even if it wasn’t my favorite, or one I watched with any regularity.  Still, was my father fighting for his last breath while I laughed at a show he disliked?  Did my unthinking choice of entertainment let Fred Sanford invade his dreams, to pester and annoy him, when his strength was at its lowest ebb? 

I know that “Sanford And Son,” was an important program for the African American community, and that I shouldn’t use that incident to somehow blame myself for my father’s death.  Yet I’ve never watched “Sanford And Son” since that night, nor can even think about the show without flinching.  I have to think that’s wrong, that I should force myself to watch a few episodes.  If I actively looked for the good it contained, and could once again appreciate it for its merits, perhaps I could suck some of the poison from a wound that, while it lies dormant most of the time, occasionally awakens to cause me pain.

Having conceived of this plan, I hope some day I will follow through on it.  For the proper role of Fiction is to bring joy, to help us understand ourselves as well as how we relate to everyone (and everything) in our world, and to inspire us to acts of greatness that will benefit everyone.  Not to cause us pain, to plague our memories, and reinforce the pain from past mistakes.  Not that.  Never that.

Trying to use Fiction properly,
Dragon Dave

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