Days of Awe 5780 [includes spoilers for Ad Astra]

This year, I think for the first time in my life, I made only a minimal effort to get to shul for Rosh Hashanah, and ultimately didn’t fulfill the mitzvah of shofar. It hurt because it’s a holiday I love but it was a situation where I needed to think and I knew I conceivably wasn’t going to be able to get eight waking hours of time by myself again until deer hunting starts at the very earliest. So I spent the holiday at an undisclosed situation, trying to think clearly about our circumstances. A bit inappropriate as we’re supposed to be thinking about the divine creation of the world and putting right our relationship with divine law and our fellow humans, but to some extent I suppose that was an element of the stuff I was thinking about. I also managed to take a really long, anxiety-free shower — water fear has been serious lately. And maybe in light of the heavy load of guilt I’ve been bearing, I did need that forgiveness message, but that wasn’t where my mind was.

Since I wrote about this stuff last — continuing the narrative: dad went on a fishing trip with HL, and I immediately got a cancel-classes-level bad cold, which nixed my plans for catching up with blogging. But the first day of it was nice — I felt simultaneously entirely relaxed and slightly intoxicated — and I’m guessing that the impending cold and the sudden relief of pressure and those feelings were all related. That same week we got the written version of dad’s neuropsych evaluation which was fifteen pages long, single-spaced, and knocked me for a loop on a few levels. Then, my employer told me that they want / need me to go to three-quarter time in the spring term, with one new course and one I haven’t taught (let’s be honest: graded) since the mid-1990s. So in January I will need to be physically at work five days a week — no other way to arrange it. The Uncle Vanya tickets dropped. Next, I put my foot through the floorboard of my car — rusted through. Then a friend of mine went to the hospital to have his foot amputated below the calf (diabetes) and as a card-carrying member of the Servetus family, I’ve been trying to visit him regularly. I bought a beater car this week from my cousin (sometimes called Airplane Mechanic on blog) — kicking the can down the road. We really need to exchange the truck for something more drivable.

On the dad front: He went on his fishing trip. He was declared medically incapacitated. Then, he formally lost his driver’s license. He’s lost several more pounds, to the point that he’s certainly medically frail now. I cook and cook and cook and yet he’s lost twenty percent of his body weight in the last year. The doctor doesn’t know why. The fighting is still regular, over the stupidest things: how his pillbox is arranged, where the Swiffer is stored, the washing machine. He picks a fight with me before I go to work on Tuesdays and Thursdays, always in relation to the senior helper, and then again when I get home. There was also a day with an unannounced resurfacing of our driveway (don’t ask) that was both expensive and chaos-inducing. So there’s that.

We move onward. HL survived the trip with dad but also noticed that it’s impossible to stop him from doing risky things. This may have been the last fishing trip as dad can’t swim, and if he won’t wear a life jacket, and can’t control his behavior, he could easily drown himself. They fought about deer hunting; dad’s customary heated blind for the last decade or so is up thirty rickety stairs and we really can’t let him climb up and down it unassisted (and possibly after drinking). HL suggested we get a RV for that ten days that dad could stay in, and dad said he wouldn’t hunt if he couldn’t go into his blind. It’s just about the blind — he hasn’t fired a deer rifle in almost a decade now. So now the hunting question is open, as well, as it might be too dangerous for dad if he refuses all assistance or support (we could possibly pay someone to hang out with him and keep him out of trouble. Maybe). It’s clear after the forearm incident both that his workshop isn’t safe for him and that locking him out of the outbuildings when no one’s here would be crushing for him and that he won’t accept any further supervision without a fight.

So.

The latest is that the GCM thinks that if dad hasn’t accommodated to the senior helper and being on my work schedule, where he has to arrange his day around my availability thus far, on two days a week (this is the ninth week), it is unlikely that he will be able to accommodate me being away five days a week. She also pointed out to me that the season of snow is coming: am I prepared to interfere physically to keep dad from plowing? To keep the key hidden?

I don’t know. It’s true that I don’t have much energy for argument left. What everyone says (GCM, attorney, Aircraft Mechanic, who went through this with his father two years ago, etc., etc.) is that most people move into assisted living as a consequence of a crisis and this is not a good way to do it. HL and I agree that a crisis is coming despite our best efforts to prevent it, because dad’s brain is not working correctly. So my hopes that we could make an arrangement that would keep him safe here were illusory. He’s angry about this situation but he’s not rational enough to do what he needs to make it safe for himself. HL thinks that given the amount of grief we will get for trying to move him into assisted living now, rather than give ourselves the additional tsuris (my word, not his) we should let the crisis occur and see what happens after that. The GCM says that it’s not ethical to let a crisis happen if we know it to be likely, but that a crisis could also occur in assisted living. HL and I think that assisted living might accelerate his decline by taking him away from things he loves, but the GCM says that’s not clear — he might eat more, he might socialize more, etc.

I don’t know. I may be coming around to the GCM’s POV that the winter will be intolerable for me if I have to expect a minimum of ten arguments a week and can’t keep dad in the house — and that I would never forgive myself if he gave himself hypothermia or worse while plowing, which isn’t outside the realm of likelihood, either, especially given the weight loss.

Late yesterday — I should have sought out the shofar, but I didn’t feel like a long drive to a Chabad, and our local synagogue is now guarded on high holidays, so it’s impossible to go anonymously — I went to the movies. Cheap day. I do a lot of thinking these days while sitting in the dark in front of the big screen. The movie was Ad Astra, not something I was dying to see but also not something that was on the “absolute no” list. In any case, if you’re still thinking about it, it’s a better movie than the trailer suggests, but also a slower one. And it was kind of a kick to the gut on a day like yesterday.

Tommy Lee Jones tumbles away toward Neptune in Ad Astra.

In the film, Planet Earth is being plagued by highly dangerous and destructive anti-matter surges. It is suspected that these are originating from the region of Neptune, where an important expedition in search for intelligent life in the rest of the galaxy — in a vessel powered by an anti-matter device — ran aground almost two decades earlier. The head of that expedition (Tommy Lee Jones) is thought to be alive and initiating these bursts, so the U.S. sends his son (Brad Pitt) to try to solve the problem. (The film is set in the “near future,” but it only takes Pitt three months to get from Mars to Neptune. In reality, the only Earth spacecraft that’s been there so far took twelve years to get there — so it’s scientifically optimistic if nothing else.)

As in Apocalypse Now (which I saw again recently in its “Final Cut” version), the suspense in this film is not about whether the searcher will reach his destination or find the thing he’s looking for — it’s clear (implausibly) that Brad Pitt will make it to Neptune, just not in what condition he will find his father, or most importantly, how he will respond to the situation in which he finds himself then. Clues are revealed as the journey progresses that the story NASA and the “United States Space Command” are telling about his father involves a troubling coverup of the truth — just as we see that Pitt’s personality and his ends / personal goals were decisively shaped both by his father and by his father’s mythos, which we eventually see is a lie. Much of the movie relates Pitt’s inner dialogues as he tries to reassess his life choices and his search for meaning in light of his mission.

For me there are two decisive moments — one occurs when he has to abandon his presumptive escape vehicle — when he says, “why do we keep trying?” This question, both hopeless and rhetorical, is juxtaposed with the fact that he continues to try to “rescue” his father, who doesn’t want him to, and who tries stubbornly to drag them both into the orbit of Neptune after Pitt has belted them together securely. Pitt wants to accomplish his mission (ultimately, saving Earth, but just as significantly, confronting his father’s meaning to him) but his father cannot let go of his own priorities and is prepared to kill his son in order to continue his own futile quest. It’s not just that his priorities are set in stone, but also that there is almost no language any more that is shared between them. So Pitt has to let his father go in order to complete the mission, and we see the father tumbling away through space, toward the gas giant.

Is letting his father go Pitt’s actual mission?

Here we are again, as with my question about getting the wrong kid: to what extent am I following my parents’ projects, even now, because I think I should? It seems like a more ominous question on Rosh Hashanah, when it is written in the Book of Life who shall live and who shall die, and how. We are meant to change our behavior and thus choose life. But whose life?

~ by Servetus on October 3, 2019.

16 Responses to “Days of Awe 5780 [includes spoilers for Ad Astra]”

  1. Took my grandbaby to hear the shofar for the first time, and she loved it! Had the biggest grin during the entire trumpeting

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  2. You and your brother have a hard decision to make. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What bad timing to get a cold when you have some free time ( that’s possibly why ). I hope your feeling better but I agree those first woozy muffled days of a cold are rather nice. I’m an outsider, and only see your situation with your dad through your blog , but assisted living really does stand out as a solution for so many reasons.

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  4. My friend’s father in law tried three care homes before he settled, he is in his nineties and has finally found a place he likes and is waited upon like his late wife did !
    I don’t know if your system allows for this but couldn’t he be persuaded by the idea of a temporary stay.

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  5. Not an easy choice, indeed. Your Dad will suffer far for his home or for some injury caused by his poor judgement. Happiness and healt are not on the menu, and I’m so sorry for you and your family. Probably the doctor is right, your Dad will improve in a safe place, and a professional care. Send all my hugs and prayers to you and yours.

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  6. I know how difficult it is to fully realise that a brain isn’t working anymore. I remember how mad I got a few years back when my Dad would insist on his own opinion in a technical matter, though it was so obvious he was wrong. By now I’m able to accept it, the things he says are sometimes so absurd…
    It’s a tough decision you have to make, but if it comes to a crisis, don’t blame yourself. My sister and I were only able to insist my father abandon driving after such a crisis. It will be hard to accept assisted living. We might have to take a similar decision about my father in a while.

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  7. Very difficult decision ahead of you there. (Although – should we also congratulate you on your employer extending your contract? That sounds like a good thing to me.) I would find it very difficult to decide whether to let the situation come to ahead by itself (HL’s option) or whether to bite the bullet and decide on assisted living – for the benefit of your father’s safety – now. In any case, it seems as if you are still bearing most of the responsibilities there – in daily life, and possibly also when it comes to decision-making? Honestly, I do think that you have all the right in the world to decide on the option that makes life bearable for you again. You have done your duty, and more than that. I’m just wishing you best of luck with coming to some sort of decision soon.

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  8. I think you know what you have to do with respect to your dad…waiting for a “crisis” is pretty dangerous and you know that. He could hurt himself or someone else if he ends up in control of a vehicle somehow, without his faculties in proper working order. You will never forgive yourself. Yes, he will have anger and probably be really difficult about assisted living, but he will probably settle down and do better than you think. I agree with the GCM: weight gain and making friends may result in positive changes. It did work for my mother, who was 84 when she had to leave her home, and is now 91 and still doing rather well. She was not happy about the move, and was angry and petulant at first. Is it possible that he picks fights and is difficult because it’s YOU, and he knows he can get away with all of this? Maybe among new people he will behave himself.

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  9. Wow. This is really tough. Sounds like you needed that day to yourself to do some thinking, even if it did mean missing the rituals of the day. Waiting for a crisis might be very risky —- seems like there have been mini-crises all along the way. It’s about keeping him safe, I guess, even though he won’t see it that way. If only he would accept more in-help support, but if not, then an outside solution will probably be the only way, when you’re ready.

    What a movie to see in the middle of that! Sounds interesting, though.

    Hope you manage to figure out the right course of action for you soon.

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  10. {{{HUGS}}}

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  11. I think this movie’s subtle approach can mislead an audience. As I say in my review (https://physics-art.com/2019/10/07/ad-astras-inspirational-message/), the meaning can be hard to see.

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    • I agree that the notion that humans could be the only intelligent life in the universe is one message the film passes on, but I do not believe that was its main message, nor was it one that was important to me as a viewer.

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      • The reason I think it was so key, is because it motivated Roy’s change of outlook on life, completing his character arc.

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        • I’m not saying it wasn’t key for you, just that it wasn’t key for me (probably a viewer’s response to this element of the plot will depend somewhat on whether they believe in the first place that it’s plausible that intelligent life exists). I also saw an article in Vulture just now, an interview with an astronaut, who says it’s the worst film he’s ever seen because the space / technical aspects are implausible. So every viewer’s idenitification of what is important about the film is going to depend somewhat on their previous knowledge / interest in the theme.

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  12. Such a difficult decision, Servetus! It will always be difficult, even if the decision should be forced by circumstance. (((HUGS)))

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