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Uncertain Principles

Physics, Politics, Pop Culture

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Death Watch

We've been standing a death watch since fall.

Back in the fall-- I can't remember any more whether it was October or November, but it was before Thanksgiving-- a beloved aunt on my mother's side of the family suffered a massive stroke. She's never entirely woken up since. Last Thursday, she had another stroke, which left her unable to swallow. She hasn't had any sustenance since, but is still hanging on-- she's a hardy one, God love her-- but it's only a matter of time.

It's tempting to say "the waiting is the worst part," but that's not true. The waiting is wrenching, to be sure-- days spent knowing that the next time the phone rings, it will probably be bad news-- but the worst part is knowing that she'll be gone forever. With her will go an irreplaceable bit of the family-- her cantankerous attitude, her exclusive love of terrible American beer (you could get her to drink Heineken, but only by telling her it was Rolling Rock), her utter inability to remember my mother's name (despite my mother being her favorite niece)-- all the little jokes and bits of history that help tie us together. In some sense, she's been gone since fall-- her existence since then has hardly been living-- but the finality of her actual death will still be a blow. And with it will come all the little unhelpful aftershocks of grief, American style: the ghoulish spectacle of "calling hours," the funeral itself, the awkward conversations with relatives last seen years ago in happier circumstances. But for now, what we've got is the waiting.

I'm not even getting the worst of it-- I'm two hundred miles away, with a wife, a job, and a new house to keep me distracted. My grandmother has been there, in the hospital, waiting, every day for months. I don't think I'd have the strength for that. Waiting on the phone in Schenectady is almost more than I can take.

And, of course, the strain of the waiting is only heightened by current events. Yeah, I know, it's tacky as hell to exploit personal tragedy for political commentary, but I can't help it. The slow slide to war is an inescapable part of the background to this death watch, and the waiting is, in turn, a part of the background of the war. I can't separate the two, any more than I can peel the first Gulf War free from the context of my sophomore year in college, or recall those hazy drunken days without hearing CNN in the background.

They're similar in many ways, and they feed into and off of each other. Each of them is a painful waiting process, hanging by the phone or the tv or the radio waiting for the inevitable bad news. My dread of the next phone call from home only increases my dread of the next news report, and the drums in the deep marking the march to war only make waiting by the phone feel worse. Neither of these situations can end well-- oh, there's a chance that Saddam could skip town, and opt to live out his days on an obscure island in the South Pacific. There's also a chance that Jesus Christ his own self will pop up on Long Island and heal my aunt. The two are about equally likely.

And as with our personal death watch, the worst part of our national death watch isn't the waiting. The waiting is bad, yes, but the worst is yet to come-- the worst part is the sure knowledge that with the start of this unprovoked war, with the unleashing of the monstrous scheme to "shock and awe" Iraq, a little part of what makes me proud to be an American will die and be gone forever.

But for now, there's nothing but the waiting. All I can do is sit in my office in a constant state of dread, whether of the phone ringing or the next radio news break. I can't quite tell any more. A sudden loud noise might make my head explode.

I hate this.

Update: We got the expected phone call at about 6:00 this evening. She died sometime this afternoon. I don't know any more details than that, but really, what else is there to know?

Posted at 10:45 AM | link | follow-ups | 13 comments

Monday, March 17, 2003

Alea Iacta Est

Well, our Intrepid Leaders have decided to pick up our toys and go home, meaning that by the end of the week, we'll likely be involved in a shooting war over the stated objections of most of the rest of the world, with no compelling reason for doing so. I'd be outraged if it weren't so depressingly stupid.

Between that, the exam we're giving tomorrow night, and the fact that I'll likely be headed to Long Island for a funeral in the very near future (and, boy, doesn't a pending trip to the New York Metro Area make me glad we're going to war...) I just don't have a great deal of energy for blogging. Posting will probably be light for the rest of the week, but I'm sure you can all find some way to distract yourselves.

Posted at 3:21 PM | link | follow-ups | no comments

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Cat Vacuuming

Faced with a great many things that need doing, I've just spent better than an hour doing something frivolous. This is distressingly typical for me.

Everyone can now reap the benefits of my frivolity, however: I've compiled an index to my physics-related weblog posts, and added it to the links bar over on the left. I'll try to keep it updated (if only because it'll be helpful when I want to refer back to old posts), but I make no promises.

Also, please note the change in my email address over on the left, another part of the slow-motion transfer of my online presence to

Posted at 11:37 AM | link | follow-ups | no comments

Sport-cum-Ritual, Again

Given the dismal showing by my favorite teams Friday night, I'm not all that fired up to talk about college hoops this weekend. I did want to make one observation, though: Brad Daugherty should never, ever be allowed to call a North Carolina basketball game.

Well, OK, two things: Duke's basketball program loses class with every passing day, it seems. Johnny Dawkins and Steve Wojchiehowski should be ashamed of themselves.

Posted at 10:28 AM | link | follow-ups | 2 comments

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