My father’s mind never failed him. Until the very end, when vain sucking for breath with spent lungs finally starved his brain of oxygen, he knew, though bedridden, where he was and the day of the week. He remained curious even about the time of day, a detail that–as far as I could see–had lost all significance. But not to him. Two days before he died he read the paper. A week before he died he told me that Twitter permitted only 140 characters. He was 82 years old and had mostly eschewed the computer. I always thought he had about the best reason for this generational reluctance: he was his own logician, doing in his mind the myriad daily calculations we now customarily surrender to our machines. At his retirement party in the late 1980s, a skit depicted one of his employees informing him that the delivery of a certain complex part (he was in the satellite business) couldn’t be expected until December 16, 2012. “That’s impossible,” said the actor playing my father, “that’s a Sunday.”
That date—so futuristic at the time—stuck with me and now has come to pass. A Sunday, of course. Yesterday. I appreciate how the players did their homework (but then, they knew they must.) Anyway, that date’s coming and going made me think of the lost past—of how the way we do things, and even the way we think, disappears. It’s replaced by new ways of doing and thinking. Creative destruction, so-called. And the new ways are more advanced, I suppose. Though it might be said that a brain with 60 telephone numbers at the ready was sharper than one which delegates all that information to a pocket partner. But that is the way of the world—it loses itself. I’m certain the generation before my father’s lamented the loss of knowledge and practices it considered essential, too. Like how to wear a hat. Or ride a horse. Once, just a couple of years from my father’s end, we were in New York City to see a play. Leaving the restaurant, he opted to split from the family pack and make his own way to the little uptown theater blocks away. His confidence, on this particular evening, was greater than his acumen—a rare miscalculation even into his 80s. After escorting the rest of my family to the box office, I left and found him sitting on a crescent-shaped bench affixed to a round concrete table in a nearby square. His head rested against his folded hands, his knuckles pointing up toward the gloaming. His eyes were closed, his ankles crossed. He looked like Plato at the foot of Socrates’ bed in the David painting. I approached him gingerly, not wanting to disturb what was clearly his prayer. “Dad,” I said softly, from a distance. No response. “Dad,” I repeated, getting closer. Nothing. When I touched his shoulder, gently as I could, he turned slowly, placidly—yet I couldn’t help feeling that my hand on his shoulder disappointed him, if only for an instant. He must have been expecting the hand of the God he was talking to. But he looked at me gratefully nonetheless. We were too late for opening curtain, so we sat together on the crescent bench angled toward one another, and talked until the second act, and then went in. We never spoke about his getting lost. Yesterday—the day that troublesome satellite part was due—was the last date on the calendar I associated with my father’s command of the world. It’s gone now, but at least it outlasted him, stretched out the world a little. I wish I could remember another one. I wish I had his mind for such things.