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May 12th, 2000

And Pain
It is Friday in the early evening. I have just finished watching or, perhaps, more accurately, listening, to the PBS News Hour on the television set playing on the far side of the room behind the computer screen. I sit playing Freecell, mind in neutral, thoughts on stun. I have not posted in three days and I am thinking that the energy should have been building by now to write. Maybe I'm not looking at it from the right angle, I thought, and I glanced over my shoulder.

I read Catherine's entry yesterday and I thought about writing something, not about Farmer's Market, Oakland the man she described who knowingly infected her with HIV (“It completed his promise to me, he said, of 'never being rid of' him.”), but something safer and more general about life and heat and the human condition. I am the observer, after all, a reporter of the war, while Catherine is a bullet, one of the tracer rounds that finds and illuminates the boundaries of our life's battle. Everyone knows the shadow with whom Catherine is dancing, the shadow that we too shall meet and embrace, the shadow that we push back out of mind and thought except in unhappy hours. It's that numb pushing back that desensitizes us to her turmoil, that makes us recoil, that makes us uncomfortable when we read of her struggle to manage and understand. Catherine is not one to bow her head and quietly hide in the shadow's embrace. Catherine does not hide. Catherine does not suffer gladly.

Don Juan Mateus told Carlos Casteneda that death is to be used as an advisor. Always with us just out of the corner of our eye, just glance in its direction when the mind is confused. Death snaps it into focus, death the advisor. I understood that. Should I, shouldn't I, should I? on and on ad nauseam. What does it mean? Look at the shadow and know. And I understood something else: you ask the shadow your question every now and again, you don't invite it into your living room for long talks in front of the fire. You don't live this life with a constant in your face knowledge of death because it will more likely break you and drive you mad than it will free you from your imagined shackles. You don't ask to dance with the shadow up close if you wish to sleep later that night. Unless you have no choice.

You can't hide when you're told: AIDS-CANCER-HEART-LIVER-LUNGS and you have only so many months or years. We all have only so many months or years, that's why we know about the shadow, but we don't know the when and the how hard. We don't face the knowledge that we were born alone in a wonderful and savage world, that we live alone for all our pretense of family and friends and that we will die alone with pain or without, face to face with whatever may lie in the darkness beyond. Make it quick and in my sleep, dear God. Don't let me know, don't let me feel pain, don't let me, don't let me, don't let me....

We are both repulsed and fascinated because Catherine's shadow is our shadow and her dance is our dance and the only difference between us is that she must face it directly while we can still avert our eyes. Life is uncertain. They say knowledge is power. And pain.

The young lady was photographed performing at the downtown Oakland farmers market.