This won't be a digression into another look at the film SICKO, but it's hard not to think of it and the American medical system when dealing with the news that a beloved family member is ailing. My grandfather is fighting to be 100, and a man who has seen what he's seen for a century should not be relegated to hospital rooms and IV tubes and the coldness, the sterility of American medicine. But then again nothing could do him justice fairly at this point. The only hope is hope, for painlessness, even among the resignation of fate, for if not a state of grace a state of peace, for us to speak, for him to fight on only if he can and wishes to.
I can't help but picture all this cinematically, an assemblage of bits from movies, from all the eras in which he's lived. I have the cut of it all in my head but I can't project it.
Everything reminds me of his own life these days; I stopped on an I Love Lucy episode, a show I watched a bit as a kid but never much got into because I couldn't relate at all to almost anything that was happening on screen, not to any of the characters. But here I can imagine my grandparents not only watching the show in the 1950s - in their 40s and 50s - but living that life, of nightclubs in New York, dresses at Macy's, airplanes like innocence, simply built and less ominous, of bridge and canasta, of suits and ties, of dreams of the life in Queens. Was life black and white then - it seems like everything must have been - did their life shift to deluxe technicolor soon after, just as some shows that stayed on for years did? When you've lived a hundred or so years you've seen not everything but a lot of things, the shifts in national mood and rising consciousness, the War and other wars and police actions and memorials and anniversaries for the War and the other wars, and the way to keep alive, the way to keep moving, is to keep caring, keep wondering, keep protesting, maintain an interest in that ever-changing world.
And just a glimpse online of scenes from the Oscar-winning 1964 documentary To Be Alive!shot in color now fading, set at the New York World's Fair, and instantly I'm taken back to footage on an 8mm camera my grandfather shot of the thing, the blue whirl of the space age exhibit and the IBM Pavillion (captured by the Eames brothers, too), the women with their beehives and unflattering maxi skirts and cat-eye sunglasses, the men an unrelatable mass of suits and hats or sweaters and pipes, juggling their kids excitedly as they point toward these glimpses of the future - and those kids could be my older sister and cousins, the next generation awaiting. And on into the 70s, the shots of California, where we moved, too far away from the East Coast family, the backyard grass covered in walnut shells, the open spaces, the hope, the grainy hope in those thin films of a family, and then the 80s and video and the look is different and the world seems less hopeful, our lives on various video formats, those shot by my dad, and some by me, but it is the little 8 - and some of them 16 - mm films shot by my grandfather that seem the most precious, because that life or those lives depicted there seem the most precious and rare and hopeful and foreign and romanticized. And I watch these films and I think, what sort of world are we left with, grandfather, what sort of world are you leaving? What we see of all those other decades in which you really, truly lived, was that how it was, or was it a mirage? Has it always been like this?
His mantra has always been "Think positive" and it's ingrained on our brains and we repeat it, too, but sometimes, sometimes it's hard because the world seems to get worse with each breath. And yet you fight on, because there must be something in it worth soldiering on for, it must be us, it must be life, it must be hope. Without those things we have nothing.