Epitaph

Death of Achilles.jpeg

música ligera:/La Sonora Matancera — Severo Sarduy

If I die from cancer — a real possibility but one I hope doesn't materialize until I'm, oh, 100 — please don't say I lost a battle with cancer. War is war and illness is illness. Don't muddle them by using belic imagery. It does a disservice to warriors and to us civilians who carry a disease.

I've never been in a battle. I respect those who have, as long as they behaved honorably. To deal with illness is another matter. You don't fight. Instead, you subject yourself to medications and procedures. Things are done to you that you hope will do you good. Not that you are entirely passive. Compliance is important — and often difficult. But it would be vainglorious of me to claim I'm being heroic. I am no Achilles, and no amount of wrath will make a difference,

"I want you to get angry with cancer", a well-meaning friend told me. But dear friend, I had to reply, anger has been drained from me precisely by the procedures I have undergone in this so-called battle. Oh how I would love to take those balletic leaps that Brad Pitt takes, sword in hand, as the legendary warrior. But one of the things that has been drained from me is precisely my ability to leap. Well, it wasn't just medical procedures. It was age, that enemy of leaps.

See, I have slipped into belic imagery. Age is no enemy. It is what is. Battling it makes no sense. Sure, one can be stronger and more supple as one ages if one engages in activities that could include, among many options, martial arts. The arts of Mars, who by now must be a very old god.

As must be Venus. Still, we continue to imagine her firm-breasted and alluring. Mars, Venus Aphrodite, gods that enthralled me in my early life when I first discovered them, read about them, saw their images in sculpture and painting — or rather the reproductions of such works, until the day I visited the Louvre and sweet mutilated Venus was surrounded by camera-clicking admirers from Japan.

Oh gods of violence and sex. Let this mortal who has worshipped you since pre-adolescence live a little longer. Without fighting, though perhaps one could stretch the meaning and say his physicians are.

So no belic imagery in my obituary. No battles lost. Say that I loved, not always wisely, but who does? Say that mostly I sang. Achilles died, even if Homer did not tell us. But Homer never died. He was a succession of singers, he was many. And without trying, he became eternal, like the gods. So let me disappear into his fold. Without a battle. Say that I never stopped singing. And never will.