24 April 2009

Channeling Cleopatra

Noblest of men, woo't [will thou/would thou] die?
Hast thou no care of me? Shall I abide
In this dull world, which in thy absence is
No better than a sty? - Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra

Midnight. April 23, 2007

“Daddy, it's me,” I could hear myself speaking in the odd, hollow, weak falsetto that always possessed my vocal chords wherever I spoke to my father. “I’m here. We all love you, and want you to get better. I love you. I love you, Daddy.” That was how it ended. “I love you, Daddy,” and then, he was gone.

Brief affirmation, followed swiftly by pandomonium. Vain attempts of human science to alter the will and timing of God. It was his time, and this was how his story as to end. He slipped away, silent as the night, even at the turning of the tide.

My father’s favorite Shakespeare play was King Lear. I have no doubt that he ever appreciated the irony of his choice. A number of parallels can be drawn quite easily between the play and our own family drama: noble, majestic father, three headstrong daughters vying for his approval… 

Indeed, for much of my life I have felt as I have been trapped inside a poorly directed production of King Lear, where I have been rather woefully and unwillingly double cast as Cordelia and the Fool. By contrast, my two, older sisters have always seemed quite content in their unwitting performances as Goneril and Regan. Even a little too content at times, if I may say so.

April 23rd. Shakespeare’s birthday and my father's death date. This date now holds more poignant meaning for me.  I lost one, on the date that I routinely celebrate the arrival of other.

It is now a date that unites fully the two elusive male figures that have shaped so much of my life. Neither man, to me, seemed to have existed as flesh and bone, more as icon, myth and legend. Similarly, their biographies hold close to basic facts and traces, limited documentation, and minimal, personal archival presence.

Their essence to me is/was/has been a body of work, sinews of greatness, achievement and accomplishment. These were the thoughts that crossed my mind, as I stared at the mere mortal who lay before me. This was not my father, this could not be my father. 

I marveled, as Cleopatra does over the body of the dying Antony, is it possible that such a great man can die? He was my father, a man I felt a barely knew beyond the public persona he lived each and every day.

Literature, poetry, and particularly the works of Shakespeare were a meeting place for my father and I. Shakespeare became our common ground, a metaphoric campfire around which we could sit side by side, and share a common language, interest and bond.

The days that follow any passing are surreal. One moves as in a dream, or a blur. Not knowing how exactly one has moved from point A to point B. Briefly, right before the start of my father's wake, as relatives, friends, and members of the community gathered at the funeral home, I had a moment of extreme clarity.

Before I realized where my legs were taking me, I knocked on the Funeral Director's door. "May I use your computer?" The Funeral director kindly allowed me to print out a copy of Sonnet #18.

I returned to the sanctuary, and informed my siblings that I would like to say something. I had no idea what. I stood at the podium, beside my father's open casket, like Mark Antony speaking over the corpse of Caesar. But unlike that noble orator, my speech was simple, and I offered words of love, instead of warnings of war. 

"My father introduced me to Shakespeare," I said plainly, "and so these words are for him:"

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee




Michelloui said...

This is wonderfully subtle and touching. I am very sorry for your loss but how wonderful for you that you had such a beautiful way of dealing with it.

SWC said...

write my girl. you know the story. do it as you have done here.
miss you