Friday, April 24, 2009
Dying of the Light
Photo (c)Avinoam Samin
This Postcard from Israel was originally written on 29 March 2006.
"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been on my mind alot lately. I feel rather alone in that, though I know that's not the case. I suppose it's only natural that after months in a coma with little or no change in his condition, Sharon would be relegated to a verbal footnote at the end of the news broadcast, if that.
Not that anyone deserves such a fate, but it seems particularly unsuitable for Sharon. If you looked at the article linked above, you'll know that Sharon has been a major figure in the history of modern Israel. He was the kind of person who could truly be described as "larger than life" (and that did not only apply to his figure). You might hate him or love him, but you couldn't be ambivalent about him. Now, I suspect, if people think of him at all, it is as an object of pity. When he does, eventually, die, people will say, "Oh, was he still alive?"
For most of his life, when Ariel Sharon did a thing, it was with gusto. In 1989 my then-fiance and I were having dinner in a nearly-deserted restaurant in the Jerusalem Hyatt Hotel. Suddenly, in walked Arik Sharon with an entourage. We watched, surreptitiouly and in awe, as he put away a meal that could possibly have fed a family of four, talking and laughing, gesturing widely to illustrate his points. His enjoyment of the meal, and the moment, was evident. Here was a man who loved life, and savored every moment.
Now this man, this fighter, this leader, is reduced to a comatose invalid. He has become an inanimate object to be shunted off into the oblivion of a quiet nursing home, but only now that the elections are over. We wouldn't have wanted any reminders of him to influence the voting, after all. It seems Sharon only remains strongly in the minds of the religious right, who have taken to sneering at him as the evildoer who is finally getting his just desserts.
In the first weeks after Sharon's devastating stroke, we played the "what if?" game alot. In the first couple of weeks, the questions were along the lines of: What if Sharon wakes up today and is ultimately able to resume his role in Israeli politics? Later, that changed to: What if Sharon wakes up this month, at least in command of his mental faculties? Finally, we wondered: What if Sharon wakes up before the elections? Of course, time passed and none of those scenarios came to be. Now, Sharon's waking up or not is no longer something that would have a tangible impact on the future of the country. A cause for celebration, undoubtedly, but not an earth-shaking one.
What is far more likely is that Sharon will spend whatever time he has left in silent oblivion, well cared for no doubt, and mourned by his family and friends. There will be no last almighty struggle, no application of that once-fierce will upon the greater forces that surround it. But if Ariel Sharon does, in fact, go gentle into that good night, at least he had - and took - the opportunity to rave and rage in all the years before this final, inevitable twilight came to lead him home.