Recognition

Those days were very sunny.  There was a surfeit of beautiful light while I listened to the machine breathe for her.  All was quiet save for the interruption of people who came with trays of food, needles and tests to do… People making a semblance of life in those days when hers was ending, and I remember sitting there looking at this woman who had given me a chance to have a family dying in bed.  I watched her preparing to follow her soul mate into death and I was saved from tears (most of the time) by the stillness of it.  Her coughing fits were few.  Her attempts to interact with her surroundings small in those first days after that phone call…

“Hello?”

“Mom’s in the emergency room.  It’s pneumonia.”

“I’ll fly in the morning.”

Airports are noisy.  The sheer amount of sound makes one conscious that this is a human-moving-machine at work, grinding on its various gears of machinery, electronics and human lives including coffee and tea.  The car ride to the hospital wasn’t noisy but it was relief because my son’s smile was there.  The drive to the hospital was filled with the sound of some song I wanted to hear from my ipod.  Then came the stillness of her room, the emptiness of her expression and the knowledge that she would die here.  When she couldn’t put a name to my face I knew that the end had come for her in the same way that it came for my father.  I, one of the three they’d adopted, was too recent in her mind to have a name though the others who were older and first still did.  I didn’t want recognition in those moments.  It was too painful to me to hear the others say, “Look who’s here!” and then watch her face as I could see her mind desperately working to affix a name to the face that she clearly recognized, but could not associate with memory or reason.  I just wanted to be near her while she yet lived.

It happened to Dad that way too.  One day, sitting in the sun room that we had converted to his bedroom, he called out for Mom and I looked up from my book and said that Mom would be back shortly.  I saw him surprised to see me there because I’d been so quiet that he thought he was alone in the room, and then he said,

“Who are you?”

At fifteen one doesn’t find the strength to say, “I’m your daughter whom you adopted 10 years ago, but who has lived with you since she was 6 mos. old, and you’re dying now, and I’m afraid.”  At least I didn’t say that.  I do not think I even felt or had those words in existence.  There was a piteous feeling there, a chasm where recognition vanished into a mist and I was thrown into the inky blackness of being a stranger in what had always been “home” to a person who had always been “Daddy.”  I was thrust then into panic because I was alone in the house.  Mom was out with my aunt and would be back, but I was alone and now the man I called “Father” did not recognize me.  But the panic was shoved aside when I had the presence of mind to ask, “What do you need?”  I don’t remember what he asked for.  I don’t remember what I went and got.  I have no memory of the moments spent at the bedside, then, waiting for the others.  All I have of those instants is the feeling of fear and dissolution, the emptiness and evaporation of that time when I saw the safety I had built inside of my relationship with a person vanish because the person no longer knew who I was.

It was different this time with Mom.  There was no panic, and though there was sadness, I was thinking about this thing we call recognition because I have come between the years of 15 and 29 to the understanding that what we look for in life is the reality of our relationships with others, and that reality can be denied us either by accident (as with the case of my parents) or by choice.  How many emails do we ignore?  How many phone calls and texts go unanswered?  How many people post on our pages to receive no response?

I ask these questions because I do it too (though usually to customer service people and telemarketers, but family has fallen in that trap too.)  “Not enough hours in the day…” Or time in the world to interact with every person who craves some infinitesimal form of recognition from us.  I find it both silly and staggering that here we have invented a multitude of ways to remain connected to one another, devices that make connection possible and facilitate those interactions, and yet they also become the means of voiding interaction both by intention and by accident.

Your call was dropped.

I’m not calling her back.

Why is he texting me now?

Now what do they want?

These emails are really too much.

When will it stop?

Do you recognize the symptoms in that litany of what I have come to call the media-interrupted-life?  We have created a system of communication that is both bind and bar and we can falsify all the missed messages we want or send all the texts we dare in order to try to keep someone in our life, and yet we are as ingenious at avoiding interaction as we are at inventing ways to foster it.  Research shows that humans are only capable of maintaining an upper limit in engaged interaction with anywhere from 290-150 individuals.  Dunbar’s number stresses that a 150 limit would have only been maintained with regards to absolute necessity.  His work examining the pre-media inundated lifestyle points to societies that would have been under “stress” or “pressure” to live like this as in militaristic lifestyles.  In other words, our communities were smaller even if we lived in immense cities.  The people you interacted with were of necessity– because of the difficulty in maintaining ties due to time/engagement restraints– on a smaller scale than what our media-interrupted-lives require in this time period.  But it seems to me that our minds are finding ways to enforce that number for us whether we like it or not, our cognition puts its own pressures on us to keep our lives less cluttered with individuals who neither engage us, nor are part of the small circle of individuals we keep in our hearts that “matter” to us.

We’re only human after all.

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~ by Rebecca Erickson on October 11, 2012.

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