The universal thump
The universal thump.
Everyone gets smacked at some point in life, writes HermanMelville in the epic tale “Moby-Dick.”
“The old sea captains ... may thump and punch me about,” says the protagonist, Ishmael, in the first chapter.
“I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way— either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round.”
This thought has been ringing in my head lately as the reality of life’s brutality seemed to keep presenting itself over the past few weeks.
An old friend e-mailed me before Christmas to reach out for support. His 50-year-old wife was due for laparoscopic surgery to repair a heart valve.
“Her outlook is very good,” he wrote. “Please say a prayer for her.”
Of course I would, I told him, while assuring him that the procedure was routine and low risk.
“It is routine,” he said. “But when it’s your wife on the table, it’s tough.”
My friend’s world was then thumped.
The surgery had complications. His wife was placed in a medically induced coma and a few weeks later she died, leaving behind her husband and 9-yearold daughter.
The loss was devastating. The woman was so young with so much life left to live. And it is crushing that a little girl must learn life’s hard truths so early.
It seemed like a week of existential pain.
Everyone reeled when rock musician David Bowie died of cancer just as it appeared he was about to launch a new phase of his career. Then rock star Glenn Frey of the Eagles succumbed to multiple health problems.
As social media sites blew up with mourning for these celebrities, I couldn’t get over the loss my friend experienced.
For members of the press, death is almost a cornerstone of the business. It is easy to become numb to it as a way to cope.
In my 26 years of reporting, I have covered everything from mass shootings to child killings and even the horrific Asian tsunami.
On that 2004 assignment, Denver Post photographer Helen D. Richardson and I traveled to the Indonesian province of Banda Aceh, where an estimated 31,000 people died.
Whole villages were scoured from the land. Homes were blown off foundations. Boats were stranded on rooftops.
Visiting a camp of displaced people, I interviewed a group of orphans. One had lost every one of his relatives. The boy was surrounded by other kids with the same story, who teased him when he began to cry. I took this not to be cruelty or bullying, but an entire community grieving together and no one’s grief superceding the rest.
It is easy to analyze death as an outsider to the pain. But even if you have grimly developed a callous to dealing with tragedies, Melville’s thumps will eventually get to you.
Over the past years I have experienced my own thumps— loved ones dying, my brother getting cancer and my mother struggling with Parkinson’s disease.
I dread what is inevitably coming, yet I love the life I live and know I am not alone.
“And so the universal thump is passed round,” writesMelville. “And all hands should rub each other’s shoulder-blades, and be content.” E-mail JeremyMeyer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: jpmeyerdpost